The Tower, DIY SOS Strictly Special and Puppy School for Guide Dogs: TV highlights this week
Northern Soul at the Prom Saturday (Saturday 26/08/23, BBC2, 7.45pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
In 1895, Robert Newman decided to bring popular classical music to people who couldn’t afford an expensive theatre seat.
Newman roped in Henry Wood as the conductor, Dr Cathcart provided the financial means to assemble an orchestra and the inaugural Prom was performed in London’s Queen’s Hall.
Anyone who wanted to stop and listen while walking (or promenading) could do so for the cost of a shilling.
From this tiny acorn has grown the massive oak that has come to be known and loved as the annual Proms. It’s surprising this musical event’s origins have been somewhat overcome by a bit of prejudice: that the series of concerts were only for people who liked classical music.
Of course, they have showcased works by some of the world’s greatest composers over the years, (many of them have become like old friends), but the Proms has always sought to innovate when it comes to its programme.
It has been a hotbed for new compositions since Edwardian times, a tradition that continues to this day, with original music commissioned specifically each year.
The Proms has also spread beyond The Albert Hall, which has been the event’s home since the Second World War, with concerts taking place around the UK, from Gateshead and Londonderry to Aberystwyth, continuing Robert Newman’s aim to bring glorious music to the masses.
The programme has been opened up to younger audiences, with a range of events aimed purely at children, including collaborations with long-running magazine Blue Peter and this year’s eagerly awaited Horrible Histories concerts.
The latest instalment is a continuation of that expansive theme and brings the Northern Soul sound to the Royal Albert Hall and the Proms for the very first time.
Curated by writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie, presented by Andi Oliver and featuring new orchestral arrangements by Joe Duddell and Fiona Brice, this is a stomping celebration of an underground British club culture which spread across the industrial North and Midlands in the 1960s and 1970s.
It brings a symphonic edge to the infectious beats that took locations like Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, Blackpool’s Mecca, Wigan Casino, Stoke’s Golden Torch and Bolton’s Va Va Club by storm.
What initially began as a celebration of forgotten American soul B-sides grew to become a euphoric release at all-night dances that were put on for factory workers: an atmosphere that is vividly brought to life for 21st-century audiences in this iconic London venue.
Edwin Outwater conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra, while the marvellous singing line-up brings together Brendan Reilly, Frida Mariama Touray, Nick Shirm, Natalie Palmer, Darrell Smith and Vula Malinga.
As for the music? It’s top class: the belting songs include You’re Gonna Make Me Love You, Open the Door to Your Heart, It Really Hurts Me Girl, Hold Back the Night, Time Will Pass You By and Just Like the Weather.
Make sure you don’t miss the concert’s highest point: a crowd-pleasing rendition of Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do).
Strap on those braces, push the living room furniture out of the way and get your dancing shoes on – you’re going to need them.
The Woman in the Wall (Sunday 27/08/23, BBC One, 9pm)
Words by Sarah Morgan
Sunday evenings used to be a time for cosy drama. Heartbeat. The Royal. Or maybe a nice, soothing literary adaptation. You know the kind of thing.
But these days? Well, anything goes. The Woman in the Wall could certainly never be described as ‘cosy’. In fact, if you’re looking for something to ease you gently into the working week, it is not going to do the trick. However, if hard-hitting and thought-provoking are more your bag, you’re in for a treat.
It’s the brainchild of Joe Murtaugh, the Bafta-nominated writer of acclaimed movie Calm with Horses, whose CV also includes the TV series Gangs of London. Taking the lead role of the troubled Lorna is Ruth Wilson, who is also among the executive producers.
“It’s a real pleasure to announce this remarkable new series for BBC One and iPlayer,” said Ben Irving, the Acting Director of BBC Drama back in August last year. “Joe Murtagh’s scripts are surprising, moving, and continually compelling.”
The six-part gothic thriller begins in terrifying fashion as Lorna, who has PTSD-related sleepwalking issues, awakes to find a dead woman in her home. Due to her regular nocturnal blackouts, she has no idea whether or not she’s responsible for the stranger’s demise.
It’s just another in a long line of issues stemming back from when Lorna was 15, ripped from her home and deposited at Kilkinure Convent, where she was forced to work in one of the country’s notorious Magdalene laundries, places in which women accused of anything from committing adultery to falling pregnant while unmarried, were incarcerated to atone for their ‘sins’.
“My family is from Mayo, the county in which the fictional Kilkinure is set, and it deeply frustrates and saddens me that it feels so few people have heard of the laundries that existed across Ireland,” explains Murtaugh. “I hope that by making something that has the familiarity of a genre piece we are able to shed some light on the awful things that occurred within these kind of institutions and introduce this history to the wider public, so that nothing like it may ever happen again.”
All Lorna’s problems may have been caused by the cruelty she suffered as a young woman, but her issues in the present are about to be compounded by the ambitious Detective Colman Akanda, played by Daryl McCormack of Good Luck to You Leo Grande, Peaky Blinders and Bad Sisters fame. Sharp with a dark wit, Akanda has risen quickly through the ranks of the Garda Síochána and suspects Lorna has committed another crime unrelated to the dead woman. However, his own life is beset by secrets he doesn’t want to reveal…
“Lorna Brady is a complex and fascinating character and I’m thrilled to help bring her to life,” adds Wilson. “In The Woman in the Wall Joe has created both an enthralling gothic thriller and a moving examination of the legacy of the Magdalene laundries. It’s a privilege to bring this story to screens.”
Sunday evenings may never be the same again…
The Tower (Monday 28/08/23, ITV1, 9pm)
Words by Rachael Popow
Gemma Whelan is back as DS Sarah Collins in The Tower, but anyone who watched the first series of the crime drama may notice that this time, she looks a little different – for a start she’s ditched her signature orange duffle coat.
The actress says: “We did give the duffle a moment, but it ends up being left in the back of Sarah’s car.
“It was quite difficult last season because I was pregnant so they had to try their best to cover up a woman who clearly would not have children at this juncture in her life. This year everything that [costume designer Darren Finch] brought along felt like Sarah. It was great to be able to move it on without doing anything drastically different. She’s looking smart and the clothes aren’t getting in the way. But there is no more orange duffle coat.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changed. Sarah has now moved to Homicide Command, where the team are busy looking for the culprit behind a shooting in a chicken shop – which makes it all the more frustrating when her new boss lumbers her with a cold case involving a teenage girl who went missing 25 years ago.
Gemma, whose previous credits include Game of Thrones, The Moorside and Upstart Crow, says: “She would definitely like to be part of the chicken shop shooting case, and she knows that being handed a 25-year-old cold case is a thankless task which everyone, especially her new boss, expects her to fail.
“But I think she rises to the challenge. She thinks outside the box and fairly quickly – just by looking at people, thinking about people in a different way – she develops a vital new lead. She prides herself on that. Even though she knows she’s being disrespected, she says ‘Right, I’m going to prove myself, I’m going to crack this.’”
But while she may have a new investigation to get her teeth into, the events of the previous series continue to haunt her. Not only is her colleague DC Steve Bradshaw (Jimmy Akingbola) part of her new team, but she learns that PC Lizzie Adama (Tahirah Sharif) has been cleared of misconduct and is back at work, which Sarah has mixed feelings about.
Gemma says: “She knows that a crime was covered up – by police officers – and she knows Lizzie Adama was part of it. At the same time, she understands why Lizzie acted as she did and the pressures she was under. Almost despite herself she’s impressed that Lizzie stayed in the police and now she’s waiting for her to prove herself.”
Lizzie’s first chance to prove she can do things by the book comes when she is called to a report of domestic violence at the home of a couple and their six-year-old daughter. But when the case takes a tragic turn, it brings her into contact with Sarah. Can they put the past behind them and work together?
We won’t have long to find out as the four-part drama is showing over consecutive evenings.
The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies (Tuesday 29/08/23, BBC1, 9pm)
Words by Rachael Popow
As well as having one of the most attention-grabbing titles of the year, the darkly funny thriller The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies also has a very intriguing premise.
Rebekah Staton stars as Alice, a put-upon PA who shares her home with her magician partner and young son. Meanwhile, Cheryl (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a bestselling fantasy fiction author who recently lost her beloved husband and now lives alone with her poodle, Goblin.
On the surface, the two women are very different, but it turns out they have something in common – Rob (Alistair Petrie).
Alice knows him as Robbie Graham, her ex-husband who disappeared 15 years ago after she lost thousands in his dodgy property business. Now he’s calling himself Dr Robert Chance, claiming to be a climate scientist, and romancing Cheryl.
When his ex-wife spots him on the street by chance, she’s determined to get to the truth, starting a story that, unlike many con-based dramas, is less interested in the scam than it is in the victims who become increasingly determined to take him down.
Staton was certainly hooked by the story, saying: “From the moment I read the script I connected with Alice’s journey, the feeling of being a woman in her forties, who doesn’t feel that she’s shown yet what she’s fully capable of!”
She adds: “I connected with her vulnerability and when I read about that early relationship with Rob and how it had made Alice feel, I connected to the idea that you hope that person is going to be able to look after you, and in Alice’s case he disappears completely and abandons her with more problems than she had when she met him.”
In fact, the actress, whose previous credits include Pulling, Raised by Wolves and Home, admits she may have related to character a little bit too much, especially when it came to her more questionable actions.
She says: “I can’t lie, it’s come as a bit of a shock that people think what Alice was doing was unreasonable! Because in the playing of it, it felt practical, ‘well I’ve got to do this now, no one is going to believe me’ and then, six months later, and I’m watching it, I’m like ‘Oh! Why is she doing that? That’s a bit dubious!’”
However, there is a point to Alice’s bad behaviour. Staton says: “We want to show a three-dimensional victim. Victims can be angry, they can make mistakes, they can take on traits they’ve experienced from the perpetrator, and I think that’s what happens here, she becomes corrupted and sees the only way to fix it is to not play by the rules.”
She also hopes that the series may lead us to think differently about con artists too. Staton says:
“[We’re fascinated by] these characters – their narrative is always served, yet we forget about the victims and the people who’ve really been harmed by their actions. So if people come away and question why things aren’t quite what they seem, then I’ll be chuffed to bits!”
DIY SOS Strictly Special (Wednesday 30/08/23, BBC1, 9pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
We love nothing more than the “let’s do the show right here!” spirit, and nothing screams that louder than DIY SOS.
Originally launched in 1999 on the back of successful interior design show Changing Rooms, the early format included a main build, fronted by Nick Knowles and a smaller project overseen by Lowri Turner.
Cameras would follow the presenters as they ‘helped’ a team of professional designers and builders fix an ordinary person’s DIY project-gone-wrong.
It proved a hit with viewers, who loved the banter between Nick and his team, as well as the amazing transformations achieved by the experts.
Fast-forward to 2010 and, proving that even the good stuff can be made better, the show rebranded as DIY SOS The Big Build, an hour-long programme with a more utopian focus.
Nick and his team would rope in locals to help with community projects that were more ambitious than the original series would have ever tackled.
Unsurprisingly, the revamped show was a bullseye too. In 2015, the Veterans Village special episode reached 9.6 million viewers, snapping up 34% of the UK audience share, the biggest the series had ever achieved.
Now it was more than just fixing disastrous abodes, DIY SOS The Big Build had a soul: an emotional pull that grabbed viewers and didn’t let go.
The latest instalment promises to be every bit as uplifting as previous episodes, as the team head to the inclusive True Colours dance school, in Wallsend, Newcastle.
It was founded by Alisar-Jane after she was diagnosed with ADHD and autism as an adult, and she discovered her love of dance helped her. When her niece was then diagnosed with a life-limiting condition as a toddler, Alisar-Jane was determined to take her to dance classes but found a lack of fun and accessible groups to attend.
So, True Colours was born.
The school has proved so popular that it has completely outgrown its existing space and is having to turn away new members with a long waiting list.
Alisar-Jane has been given the keys to a run-down old boys’ club which has potential but there’s no electricity, heating, natural light or disabled access. As a small charity they have limited funds to renovate it.
Cue Nick and his team of builders and volunteers, who this time include Strictly Come Dancing stars Anton Du Beke, Katya Jones and Graziano Di Prima.
Nick is clearly delighted to be digging out his hard hat again, saying: “This Performing Arts School really needs a transformation. If we can help them grow so they can accept more students, then we’re going to go above and beyond.”
As for Anton, he can’t wait to get started. “What Alisar-Jane and her team is doing is very special. Myself, Katya and Graziano understand the power of dance and how it brings people together.
“This could really transform not just the building but the community too. We are thrilled to help out and bring some Strictly magic to the proceedings. Who knows, we may see a future Strictly star in our midst!”
The Royal Borough: Kensington & Chelsea (Thursday 31/08/23, Channel 5, 9pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
The Royal Borough of Kensington and the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea was created under the 1963 London Government Act, which was also responsible for the launch of the Greater London Council.
Yet separately, both places have much longer histories.
Kensington was one of numerous parcels of land handed out by William the Conqueror, while the De Vere family, which owned the land, gave their name to Earls’ Court after becoming Earls of Oxford.
Chelsea had been of importance since the 8th century, and was owned by Henry VIII. A manor house in the area was occupied by Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, as well as Elizabeth I, and Thomas More lived nearby.
The combining of the two boroughs in the Sixties sparked an outcry from Chelsea residents, who objected to their name being dropped in favour of Kensington, prompting the then-Minister of Housing and Local Government, Sir Keith Joseph, to backtrack and bestow the borough’s current mouthful of a moniker.
It’s led to an astonishing place; a blend of two distinct characters dotted with architectural and historical gems. Trivia fans should know that at five square miles, it is London’s smallest borough and the second smallest district in England, despite being one of the country’s most densely populated administrative regions.
It’s also home to the annual Notting Hill carnival and another event that is at the heart of the latest instalment in this fascinating series.
Every spring, the historic and peaceful Royal Hospital Chelsea becomes the busiest place in the borough, as it plays host to the world-renowned Chelsea Flower Show. This year, there are 36 feature gardens, with the most prominent of all to be created by horticulturalist Dave Green.
He has been commissioned to create a garden that both celebrates King Charles III and commemorates his mother, Queen Elizaneth II. It’s a huge honour, but it also comes with massive pressure.
Dave has been in contact with the gardeners at Sandringham to get the choice of plants just right. Fingers crossed it will be enough to win the approval of the King when he visits the Flower Show for the first time as the country’s ruling monarch.
Most of us when putting together a bash for friends and family make a list, get in some beer and wine and put a digital playlist together.
In Kensington and Chelsea, they do things differently. In fact, there is just one man to call on: legendary ‘party architect’ Johnny Roxburgh. He’s produced many a royal bash, including Prince William’s 21st birthday.
Now he’s throwing a party at the Chelsea Physic Garden for a local multimillionaire and it needs to be planned with military precision, including gourmet canapes, a stunning marquee and vast floral arrangements. Every waiter will have a customised outfit inspired by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and there’s even a dedicated make-up area where the waiting staff are primped with fake tans and tattoos.
This edition also goes behind the scenes at the hair salon that was trusted to take care of Kate Middleton’s tresses on her wedding day, and cameras take a peek inside the Royal Borough’s car dealers, where vehicles sell for around twice the price of the average UK house.
Puppy School for Guide Dogs (Friday 01/09/23, Channel 5, 8pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
As a nation of dog lovers, it is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that most puppies are ridiculously adorable. Just look at the reams of clips and videos on social media. However, a select few of these furry friends are truly life changing.
For visually impaired people around the country, the canine graduates of the Guide Dog Puppy School can help them achieve the fullest lives possible.
But exactly what does it take to turn a playful bundle of fur into a fully-fledged hero hound?
This uplifting and emotional fly-on-the-wall documentary series aims to find out, meeting guide dogs at every stage of their amazing journey, from newborns to trainees and veterans, as well as the humans that both train and rely on them.
Along the way, there will also be a spotlight on other types of assistance canines, including a PTSD support dog with a passion for surfing, and a diabetes detection dog that is definitely living the Chelsea high life.
It all begins with an introduction to Hester, a visually impaired 16-year-old and Paralympic skiing hopeful who’s about to become one of the UK’s youngest guide dog owners. However, it remains to be seen how well or badly her retired Buddy Dog – and now beloved family pet – Dash, copes with an upstart interloper.
Meanwhile, back at the Guide Dog Puppy School, one-year-old Labrador retriever cross Eva is about to undertake the obstacle course. This tough challenge is a critical part of guide dog training, and she absolutely has to master it.
As if that wasn’t difficult enough, young Eva must then demonstrate that she can resist the ultimate test: food temptation. After a slight mishap, her training kicks in and she sails through the challenge with flying colours.
Over in Shrewsbury, we meet Ela, a six-year-old Golden Retriever and her human mum, Kath. Ela is part of Guide Dogs’ breeding programme and she’s already eight weeks pregnant. Cameras follow her as she undergoes her final ultrasound from Guide Dogs’ Breeding Advisor, Kim, who is also rather sweetly known as the puppy midwife.
As the episode unfolds, Ela goes into labour and several hours later, delivers six healthy pups. But just when they think it’s all over, number seven decides to put in an appearance.
Cameras catch up with Ela and her pups a week later as they all undergo a health check. Six of them are in tip-top condition, but one of them has a broken tail which needs some expert attention.
It’s not just girls doing their bit for breeding. Golden Retriever Trigger is a legend who has sired more than 300 puppies. The programme catches up with him as he heads off to Guide Dogs HQ to father the next generation of smart puppies.
Finally, we meet Natalie, who has cerebral palsy, and her rescue Labradoodle Cleo who she adopted six years ago. Natalie reveals she could immediately tell that the pooch was special and, sure enough, after a quick spot of training from Support Dogs, Cleo now helps Natalie live independently.
Not bad for a dog’s life, is it?