Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance and Children In Need: TV highlights this week
Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance 2023 (Saturday 11/11/23, BBC1, 9pm)
Words by Rachael Popow
Events around the world over the past year have reminded us that we can never take peace for granted. So, tonight’s Royal British Legion’s annual Festival of Remembrance will have an added poignancy as we reflect on the sacrifices the military have made for our freedom.
The ceremony comes from the Royal Albert Hall, where Clare Balding is acting as host and the audience includes His Majesty King Charles III and Queen Camilla as well as other members of the Royal Family.
There will also be a starry line up of performers, including British soul legend Mica Paris and popstar Calum Scott, Festival favourite Alfie Boe, singer-songwriter Katie Melua and chart-topping DJ-duo Sigma featuring Morgan.
Proving that this is an event that appeals to all ages, there will be appearances from Chelsea Pensioner Colin Thackery, who in 2019, at the age of 89, became the oldest-ever winner of Britian’s Got Talent, and another BGT favourite, 14-year-old opera-singing sensation Malaki.
There will also be military music from the Band of HM Royal Marines and the Band of The Royal Airforce Regiment.
In between the performances, there are some significant anniversaries to mark, including one that will be close to Colin Thackery’s heart – it’s 70 years since the end of the Korean War.
It’s a conflict in which many national servicemen fought and died, but their sacrifice has sometimes been overlooked, with some people even dubbing it the ‘forgotten war’. That will be put right tonight.
It’s also eighty years since The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest military campaign of the Second World War, and veteran from both conflicts will be in attendance.
This year has seen numerous documentaries and events marking the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush’s arrival in Britain. The Festival is also marking this landmark by paying tribute to the extraordinary contribution the Windrush generation made to the military.
Although the Festival will be looking to the past, there will also be time to celebrate currently serving military personnel. Viewers will learn about the remarkable work of the British Army Chaplains in training their Ukrainian counterparts.
While being in the military may be tough, it can also be difficult for the families of servicemen and women left at home. They will get a tribute tonight, as they are thanked for the essential role they play in supporting their loved ones.
Past and present military personnel will come together to be honoured for their service and dedication in defending our freedoms and way of life, and as is traditional, the Festival will end with falling petals, as the audience and viewers at home remember victims of war and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The commemorations continue tomorrow on BBC1 with Remembrance Sunday: The Cenotaph (10.15am). David Dimbleby presents live coverage from Whitehall, while Sophie Raworth hears the remarkable stories of some of the people marching. There will be another chance to see the Cenotaph ceremony on BBC2 at 6pm.
Bill Bailey’s Australian Adventure (Sunday 12/11/23, Channel 4, 9pm)
Words by Sarah Morgan
He’s an actor, a singer and a musician. He can dance pretty well too, as anyone who witnessed his Strictly Come Dancing triumph in 2020 will tell you.
Bill Bailey, however, will probably say that despite all his accomplishments, first and foremost he’s a comedian. His ability to make people laugh isn’t something he takes lightly or for granted either – to him, it’s a serious business.
“I thought I’d only be able to do comedy while I was young and daft and saw it as a way to avoid a boring office job,” he says. “I fully expected eventually to have to do something sensible, and never imagined sustaining it for this amount of years.”
Born Mark Robert Bailey in Bath in 1965, he was good both academically and at sport at school, but performing became his true love. He was given the nickname ‘Bill’ by his music teacher after he performed the song (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey on the guitar, and after a brief spell studying for an English degree, decided to concentrate on developing a career on stage.
Like Billy Connolly, he started out playing in bands, but it was as a comedian that he made his name, eventually mixing in musical parodies among the more traditional gags – something he continues to this day.
“Writing comedy’s just as much a passion as it was all those years ago,” claims Bailey. “It’s what gets me up in the morning.
“I still regard myself as learning this craft and love using humour to explore the big questions like ageing, attitudes to religion, the political process, the way social media changes people’s behaviour, and all the myriad events in the news.”
Another of his passions is travel. Before he settled on becoming a comedian, he spent a decade drifting, journeying across the globe supposedly looking for the meaning of life. Whether he found it or not remains a secret, but he did spend time following the hippie trail, rocking up in Indonesia on various occasions (later, he married his wife in Banda; their son, Dax, is named after a local friend).
Since Bailey’s career took off, he’s travelled the length and breadth of the UK as what he describes as a ‘touring minstrel’. He’s also headed further afield, performing stand-up around the world. He’s got a European tour planned for 2024 and is currently on the road in New Zealand.
He’s also taken in the sights and sounds of Australia in the past, somewhere he explores in more depth during his new four-part series.
Bailey is actually concentrating on the massive state of Western Australia, which has a land area of 975,685 square miles; much of it is a sparse yet beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape.
He begins by meeting true-blue Aussies before taking in the sights and sounds of a local beach, paddleboarding with an ex-NBA star in the chilly Southern Ocean and visiting the spectacular Valley of the Giants. Of course, being a wildlife lover, Bailey will no doubt also find the time to inspect the local flora and fauna. We’re sure to be green with envy as he adds another string – that of travelogue presenter – to his bow.
The Playboy Bunny Murder (Monday 13/11/23, ITV1, 9pm)
Words by Rachael Popow
Last week The Long Shadow, ITV1’s drama charting the search for the Peter Sutcliffe, came to a conclusion. Now, the channel is tackling a lesser-known case in the two-part true-crime documentary The Playboy Bunny Murder.
The programme investigates the killings of Eve Stratford, a Playboy Bunny who aspired to be a famous model, and schoolgirl Lynne Weedon, who were both found dead in London in 1975.
Their murders remain unsolved but when Weedon’s case was re-opened in 2007, DNA evidence suggested both women had been the victim of the same unknown killer.
Lynda Farrow, a croupier with years of experience working in nighttime London, was found dead in 1979. At the time, the media linked her death to that of Stratford due to similarities between the crimes and the fact that both of them had worked in West End nightspots. However, subsequent DNA testing failed to establish a link.
The cases have long fascinated writer, broadcaster (and brother of Louis) Marcel Theroux.
He says: “This is a story that has obsessed me for years. How could a serial killer kill multiple victims in 1970s London and remain unknown? What evidence was missed?
“What clues were the police of the time unable to make use of? As witnesses reach the ends of lives and memories fail, this might be the last chance to get justice for the three victims.”
Although the title may sound like it’s been chosen to attract maximum attention, we’re assured that the women will be at heart of the documentary.
John Farrar, Chief Creative Officer at Future Studios, said: “These women are not just names or statistics. They were someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s partner. Marcel is not only on a mission to seek the truth but to shine a light on those lives that were tragically cut short.”
The filmmakers had access to friends, colleagues and relatives of the victims, who share their memories and shine new light on the women’s lives and personalities.
The two-part documentary also set out to take viewers back to the superficially glamorous days of London in the 1970s, drawing on archive footage to recreate the era, while also exposing the darker side of the city’s nightlife.
It’s a story that begins at the Playboy Club in London, which was the most financially lucrative and internationally infamous site in Hugh Hefner’s empire. It was a favoured hangout of Hollywood stars and politicians, but it would also provide the backdrop to Stratford’s murder.
Theroux sifts through 50 years of inconclusive police investigations in search of new leads, and examines the links between the case and other unsolved murders.
Then, in tomorrow’s concluding part, the documentary takes an unexpected turn as modern technology reveals a new, fourth victim.
Marcel learns that detectives are flying out to the Far East and a predator is uncovered. Is it possible that after all these years, the women and their families will finally get the justice and answers they deserve?
Secrets of the Aquarium (Tuesday 14/11/23, BBC Two, 8pm)
Words by Richard Jones
If you’ve ever wondered how a shark is moved from one tank to another, or how many rays is too many for one aquarium, then a trip to the National Marine Aquarium (NMA) in Britain’s Ocean City, Plymouth, may be in order.
Originally housed at the Marine Biology Association on Plymouth Hoe during the late 19th century, it was relocated to a much larger state-of-the-art building in the city’s Barbican district in 1998.
Since then, tens of thousands of animals have made the Aquarium their home, while the NMA has welcomed over seven million (human) visitors.
Over the past quarter of a century, the National Marine Aquarium has become a key pillar of the local community in Plymouth, and locals will often recount tales of coming to the aquarium for a school trip, sleepover, a visit with grandparents, or even a first date.
However, its greatest impact has been on conservation, and it has long been at the forefront of the battle for a healthy and thriving oceans.
This year, the NMA is celebrating its 25th anniversary by taking television viewers behind the scenes of its world-class exhibits, showing us how the 100 vets, trainers and keepers keep over 4,000 spectacular creatures happy and healthy.
Six-part documentary series Secrets of the Aquarium follows the intrepid team through an exciting year of renovation, overhaul and innovation.
Olly Reed, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Ocean Conservation Trust and the National Marine Aquarium, says: “We are thrilled to showcase the work of our charity and Aquarium to BBC viewers.
“Our charity is dedicated to connecting people to the Ocean, and so we are delighted to bring that connection into people’s homes across the UK!”
Clare Mottershead, BBC Commissioning Editor, adds: “We’re looking forward to bringing the wonders of this underwater world to our audiences and sharing the surprising stories of the creatures who inhabit it and the committed team who look after them.”
When we first join the staff, it’s a time of change – new tanks are being installed and new animals are arriving.
But that’s not all. The teams at the aquarium are committed to connecting people to the ocean and are helping to establish Plymouth Sound as Britain’s first ever National Marine Park.
Over the next few weeks we will get acquainted with the friendly staff as they feed the star fish, swim with sharks, weigh the sting rays, catch a venomous lion fish, visit the fish nursery, prepare for the arrival of the baby clown fish, give pioneering contraceptive implants to stingrays, receive a new octopus, build a habitat for seahorses and fly to the Maldives to rescue an injured turtle.
In tonight’s first edition, Marcus, the NMA’s new curator, attempts a high-risk move for a problem shark to the top of the aquarium.
Meanwhile, Andrew builds a cave for a reclusive lobster and star attraction, Friday the turtle, suffers a nasty bite from a mystery tank mate.
As well as watching the team hard at work in the Aquarium itself, the six-part series will also venture into the wild following the team’s role in a vital new seagrass protection project – the landmark ‘Blue Meadows’, which will deliver a holistic approach to seagrass protection, regeneration and restoration.
Prepare to fall in love with not only the quirky underwater creatures at NMA, but also some of the big characters that work in this dramatic and unpredictable setting when everyday presents a new challenge.
Return to Lockerbie with Lorraine Kelly (Wednesday 15/11/23, ITV1, 9pm)
Words by Richard Jones
Pan Am flight 103 blew up in the sky 31,000ft over small Scottish border town of Lockerbie in Scotland on December 21, 1988, just 38 minutes after taking off, killing all 259 passengers.
The plane, called Clipper Maid of the Seas, was flying from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York, when a bomb was detonated aboard.
Large sections of the aircraft fell onto a residential street in Lockerbie, killing 11 residents, and taking the death toll to 270.
Acting on a tip-off from a police contact, TV-am’s Scotland Correspondent Lorraine Kelly was one of the first reporters to arrive on the scene before it was cordoned off.
She witnessed the horrific aftermath first hand, as she recalled during an interview with the Daily Star on Sunday.
“We got right up to the nose of the plane in the field,” she said.
“We were there before the police had put barriers up. It was terrible. There were lots of bodies, some of them were still in their seats. It was awful.
“You don’t forget things like that – it’s seared on to your brain.
“The only thing that made me able to still do my job (that day) was the unreality.
“It was like being on a movie set, it really was. You can’t imagine anything worse.”
In this poignant film, Lorraine returns to the scene of Europe’s deadliest terror attack for the first time, 35 years on, to try to understand what happened to Lockerbie and its people once the TV cameras went home.
She meets the residents who didn’t put up Christmas lights in the town centre for 10 years after the event, and hears how people have attempted to make sense of the senseless and found hope in human connection as a way to deal with their grief.
Lorraine, who turns 64 in two weeks’ time, also seeks to understand what this horrific event can teach us about the road back to peace from trauma and asks whether the event had a more profound impact on her own life than she had ever imagined.
“I do sometimes get flashbacks,” she admits. “I still see the bodies.”
Lorraine has since revealed that she “cried” on Christmas Day following the tragedy.
She explained that her father had come to pick her up, and in “typical working class” style asserted that his daughter wouldn’t want to talk about it. However, she admits that she went ahead and just “talked and cried” instead.
Lorraine was just 31 at the time of the disaster and her reporting resulted in her landing a presenting job on TV-am’s Summer Sunday programme.
She also provided cover for the hosts of the main show throughout the week, before joining Good Morning Britain in 1990 and helping to launch GMTV in 1993.
However, she has since admitted to Star Talk that she feel pangs of guilt that the Lockerbie bombing somehow helped her TV career.
“It is quite difficult to live with that,” she says.
“The fact that dreadful, horrendous, terrorist atrocity resulted in me getting one of the best jobs ever.”
DIY SOS (Thursday 16/11/23, BBC1, 9pm)
Words by Rachael Popow
It’s become an annual tradition for a Radio 2 DJ to take part in a big challenge to support Children in Need.
Last year, Scott Mills spent 24 hours on a treadmill, and this year, relative new boy Vernon Kay, who stepped into Ken Bruce’s vacated mid-morning slot in May, is taking on a gruelling ultramarathon challenge.
However, that doesn’t mean that Mills gets to put his feet up this time around, as he’s doing his bit for the charity fundraiser by pitching in on the DIY SOS Children in Need Special.
It’s the second time that Mills has joined Nick Knowles and co, and he thinks the crossover makes sense. The DJ says: “Everyone just loves a collaboration don’t they? – and this one is a perfect match!
“At Radio 2 we have always been big fans of DIY SOS and the station are huge supporters of BBC Children in Need too – as you’ll know from all the of challenges they have the presenters doing each year. I’m never getting on a treadmill again after last year, I still have blisters.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that DIY SOS is the easy option though. The Mills says: “Last year I was the new boy , therefore I was the apprentice on the build. This year a lot has changed. You’ll have to watch to find out, but let’s just say you can learn a LOT in 12 months!
“Let’s just say I have never had anything to fall back on until now – so if the radio thing doesn’t work out…”
It’s good that Mills’ building skills have improved, as he’s helping out on a very worthy project in Risley, Derbyshire.
Nick Knowles explains: “Treetops Hospice is a hospice for adults with life-limiting illnesses, but their funding from BBC Children in Need over the last 10 years has meant they have been able to develop as a leading bereavement counselling service for children in Derbyshire – specifically for children who are facing a traumatic bereavement, so they could have lost someone very suddenly or under traumatic circumstances.
“Treetops did deliver this support in one of their current buildings, but it wasn’t quite fit for purpose and a little bit too clinical for children.”
So, with the help of other Radio 2 stars, including Richie Anderson, Zoe Ball, Rev Kate Bottley, Scott Jeremy Vine and Owain Wyn Evans, as well as local tradespeople, the DIY SOS team are creating something more suitable.
Nick says: “I think with this build especially, everyone has experience of bereavement including people on our team and those volunteering, so it is one that’s really close to people’s hearts and you can see that in the programme. It is very emotional. Everyone pours their heart and soul into this build and wants to make it as special as possible for the children who will be using it for years to come.”
So, it’s set to be a moving reveal, especially when singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor drops by for a special surprise.
Children in Need 2023 (Friday 17/11/23, BBC One, 7pm)
Words by Sarah Morgan
Be SPOTACULAR. That’s the slogan emanating from this year’s Children in Need campaign.
What that means exactly is open to interpretation. Perhaps it’s something to do with spotting stars because there are certainly plenty of them involved.
Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kelly Holmes, Dr Alex George, Jermaine Jenas, Alex Jones, Roman Kemp, Oti Mabuse, Christine McGuinness, Harry Pinero, Katie Piper, Jill Scott, Rachel Stevens, Laura Whitmore, Joe Wicks, Big Zuu and many more came together in September to launch the event and show their support for youngsters across the country who are facing disadvantage while discussing how we can all make a difference.
“Like every child across the UK, the children and young people we support want to thrive and be the best they can be, but they are constantly held back by the deep impact of poverty, mental health and family challenges – and the need is only rising,” says the organisation’s chief executive, Simon Antrobus.
“Through my own experience as a young person and here at BBC Children in Need, I know that the power of positive relationships with trusted adults and project workers can help children navigate these challenges successfully. Thanks to the ongoing support of the British public, BBC Children in Need are able to fund thousands of project workers across the UK but, we urgently need the public’s support once again so that we can continue to be there for the children and young people who need us most.”
He adds: “I’m confident that the great British public will once again get behind our appeal and help us make a difference when it is needed most. Together, we can show children and young people that we believe in them and we are there for them.”
You’re probably already aware of some of the fundraising challenges that have been going on in the build-up to the big night, including Challenge Yourself, led by the folks behind The One Show and Morning Live, in which members of the public were tasked with taking on something they knew would push them out of their comfort zones.
Some of the participants appear in Friday’s marathon programme, with two performing live on the show alongside some special guests.
Ade Adepitan, Mel Giedroyc, Jason Manford, Chris Ramsey and Alex Scott are our hosts for the evening, and they’ll be joined by the event’s youngest-ever presenter, Lenny Rush.
“It’s an honour and a thrill to be the first child presenter for Children in Need,” says the 14-year-old Bafta-winning star of Am I Being Unreasonable? who has also landed a coveted role in Doctor Who. “I can’t wait to feel the buzz of a live show and to help raise money.”
We’re looking forward to seeing him too, introducing numerous sketches featuring favourite TV shows including MasterChef and Race Around the World, as well as musical performances.
But, when it comes down to it, it’s all about the money. In 2022, the total on the night was a staggering £35million. Whether that can be matched or even bettered this time around remains to be seen, but the Beeb are hoping for something similar – and that really would be spotacular!