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TV picks: what to watch in the week ahead

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 27, 2014

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TONIGHT MONDAY 27TH JAN

BRITAIN'S GREAT WAR (BBC ONE, 9PM) ****

As Britain prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, some politicians and historians have expressed concern that too many of us seem to have based our understanding of the conflict on repeats of Blackadder Goes Forth.

However, the BBC are about to provide us with some different perspectives on 'The Great War,' as they begin an ambitious season of programmes marking the centenary.

Adrian Van Klaveren, the man with the daunting job of overseeing the coverage, explains: "The BBC's World War One Centenary season is unlike any other season the BBC has undertaken, not least because of its scale.

With programming and events spanning the four years from 2014-2018, echoing the time-frame of World War One, it is the biggest and most ambitious pan-BBC project ever commissioned with more than 2,500 hours of programming already planned across television, radio and online and across our international, national and local services."

In the slightly unlike case that anyone is wondering if that might be a little bit excessive, the BBC's Director-General Tony Hall has offered a reminder of why the season is so important. "There's a single idea behind everything ...and it is this: no other event in our history has had such a dramatic impact on who we are."

That's certainly the starting point for the four-part series Britain's Great War, which is presented by Jeremy Paxman and produced in partnership with the Open University.

The programme reminds us that this was Britain's first 'total war' - for the first time, men were conscripted to fight, civilians were being bombed, and virtually every family in the country lived in fear of a knock at the door telling them that a loved one had been killed.

It also required the nation to turn itself into a war machine, capable of sustaining the conflict, and in the process, it transformed the lives of many women, who suddenly found themselves taking on jobs traditionally occupied by men.

That wasn't the only social change, as people began to question some of the assumptions that British society was based on.

But Paxman points out that it's important not to see the conflict entirely through modern eyes.

"The trouble with so much of our understanding of World War One is that it is seen through the prism of the prejudices of the hundred years which have followed it. It's an amazing and important story which deserves to be viewed afresh."

With that in mind, the first episode looks at the initial optimism of 1914, as young men volunteered to fight.

But while support for the war was to remain strong, even through the darkest days, fear soon took grip at home, as the public began to live in fear of invasion, seeing spies everywhere.

And just to make sure we do see the period from the perspective of those who lived through it, Paxman gets a first-hand account the shelling of Hartlepool from a 105-year-old eyewitness.

Tuesday 28/01/14

PAUL O'GRADY'S ANIMAL ORPHANS (ITV, 9PM) ****

You can run but you can't hide from Paul O'Grady.

He's everywhere at the moment, and luckily for us animal-loving softies, he's usually accompanied by a furry friend or three.

This latest series has taken the presenter's own passion for animals and blown it up on a much bigger scale, sending him to South Africa and Zambia to meet animals that have been orphaned in the wild.

But like all good things, it must come to an end, and in tonight's final episode, Paul is at Chipembele Animal Rescue, where he meets Douglas, a hippo calf who was found at five months old wandering alone near the Zambezi River. Douglas soon takes a shine to Paul, and the two even go for a paddle in a nearby pond.

He also meets a baby giraffe called Melmin at Moholoholo, an animal rehabilitation centre. She was abandoned by her parents and brought into the centre when she was just four hours old.

However, Paul finds that bottle-feeding milk to a giraffe isn't the easiest of tasks. But the effort has been worth it and Paul watches as Melmin is released out of the centre and in to the reserve.

Paul says: "She's glorious, she's stupid but she's glorious. I've only known her for five minutes but I'll be sad to see her go."

Plus, Wendy the warthog is released into the wild after a long rehabilitation programme, and Paul spends time with his favourite baby elephant, Nakala, as well as learning about vultures, which are endangered species in Africa.

Paul, more often than not, may be smiling and cooing over the animals during filming, but he's adamant something needs to be done about the reasons behind them being orphaned in the first place.

He explains: "In 10 years time there are going to be no elephants or rhinos in Africa, that's what they're saying now. Everyone said that to me, everybody I met said in 10 years time they will be extinct because even on the big parks the poachers are getting in. And all this is to make bangles and those carvings from the tusks. It's wanton destruction."

But the time he spent there certainly made a difference. In fact, after he fell in love with Nakala the elephant, it looked likely we wouldn't see Paul back in Blighty.

He explains: "Seriously it was up for debate whether I was coming back honestly, because I did contemplate it. I thought I'll stay till Christmas with him and see how he's doing. Because you have to look after them 24/7.

You have to sleep with them and everything and you get so involved and when you see them cry and things like that... I used to have to wash his bum and everything and he was like a kid he hated it and I'd be there saying 'it happens to us all, it comes to us all, come here'."

And so if he ever fancies a change in career?

"It's a nice job," Paul admits. "I mean they work really hard and it's very upsetting what they have to deal with but it's so worthwhile as well you get a real kick out of it, you really do."

Wednesday 29/01/14

OUTNUMBERED (BBC ONE, 9PM)

Don't kids grow up fast these days?

It only seems like five minutes since Outnumbered first introduced us to pint-sized surrealists Jake, Ben and Karen (aka child actors Tyger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche and Ramona Marquez) who impressed viewers - and the British Comedy Awards judging panel - with their hilariously natural semi-improvised dialogue.

So as the sitcom returns for a fifth series, try to bear in mind that it actually started in 2007 - it might lessen the shock of discovering that Jake is now old enough to drive, Ben is taller than his dad, and even little Karen is starting senior school.

Of course, now the kids are older they are less likely to go off on strange tangents about nits or their nightmares, let alone act out versions of Britain's Got Talent with their soft toys.

Add in the fact that the creators, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, have confirmed that this will be the last-ever series may leave some viewers wondering whether the show has hit that awkward age and is in danger of becoming just another family sitcom.

However, Hugh Dennis, who plays long-suffering dad Pete, reassures viewers that Outnumbered will still have that natural, improvised feel that made it such a hit.

"Filming the series is always a very, very happy experience and for someone like me who, as a stand-up comedian is used to improvising, it is perfect.

"Andy and Guy are incredibly clever, which makes you feel very confident. We are sitting there with the cameras ready to roll, and Andy and Guy are over in the corner whispering to the children and you wonder what on earth they are up to - which means your reaction is completely spontaneous."

And of course, having a houseful of teenagers brings its own challenges, which Pete and Sue (Claire Skinner) don't always rise to.

Hugh says: "The mum and dad do the classic thing that parents do - they try to present a united front, but in the heat of the moment, they find themselves going off on their own and then requiring the other one to support them, however ludicrous it might be.

"But what makes it really interesting is that there isn't any obvious strain in their relationship. They're clearly very happy as a couple. They might both be making terrible errors, but as neither of them are very judgmental, they're not blaming each other.

"They're in it together, but they're both a bit rubbish - as are most parents in real life, which makes Outnumbered very realistic."

Pete and Sue certainly find their parenting skills being put to the test in this opening episode, as the newly brunette Karen is having trouble adjusting to her new school - and her mum's attempts to help just look set to make things worse.

The good news though is that Ben doesn't seem to have outgrown his blithe self-confidence, as he refuses to let the fact that he can't sing discourage him from auditioning for the lead role in a musical version of Spartacus.

Thursday 30/01/14

DAN SNOW'S HISTORY OF THE WINTER OLYMPICS (BBC TWO, 9PM) ****

In 1887, a 27-year-old Lincolnshire Methodist Minister travelled to Chennai (now Madras, in India), explains Dan Snow.

This is not the sort of intro you'd expect from Dan Snow's History of the Winter Olympics (BBC2, 9pm). Crisp snow slopes and the Ski Sunday theme perhaps, but stick with it, because this one-off documentary is a compelling mix of travelogue and history lesson.

Here Snow travels across nine countries to learn more about how the Winter Games took shape.

He finds that although the Olympic ideal may involve countries coming together in a spirit of friendship, the event has frequently been affected by politics, whether it was due to Nazism or the tense rivalries of the Cold War.

Tension between East and West led to the so-called 'Miracle on Ice' of 1980, when the US men's ice hockey team beat the seemingly undefeatable Soviets, and arguably culminated in the emotional Olympics of Sarajevo in 1984.

That was the year Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated to victory on the strains of Bolero, and captured the imaginations of 24 million UK viewers watching at home, as well as many around the world.

However, as Snow discovers, just eight years later most of the Olympic sites had been destroyed by civil war.

Jayne's comment about returning to the Sarajevo since the war is arguably the most chilling.

"We actually saw the opening ceremony stadium, huge outdoor stadium, that had now been turned into a graveyard."

The figure skaters weren't the only Brits to shape Winter Olympic history, as Dan explains the pivotal role Arnold Lunn played in Alpine skiing.

From Chamonix to (his old stamping ground) Oxford and beyond, Snow's film features a collection of archive footage.

The seed of the Winter Olympics was sown with the Nordic Games, held in Sweden in 1901.

By 1924, Chamonix was the host to the first Winter Olympics, and four years later it was St Moritz's turn, though a blizzard plagued the opening ceremony.

In the years that followed, Lake Placid (USA) hosted the Games twice; Adolf Hitler opened the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, while other venues have included Oslo and Lillehammer in Norway; Sapporo and Hanagno in Japan, and Canada, who hosted the prestigious event in Calgary and Vancouver.

At one point, British heroes at the Winter Olympics were a rare breed. But then came John Curry who, although suffering from verrucas at the time, won gold in the 1976 figure skating competition.

Four years later came another success with Bristol's Robin Cousins, who emulated Curry's success, and, as the 1984 Games approached, a young duo from Nottingham took the limelight and eventually won gold in the ice dance championships.

Ten years after this win, Torvill and Dean returned to the Olympics and were awarded Bronze in the ice dance competition held in Lillehammer.

It's anyone's guess whether Blighty's latest hopefuls will do as well as Curry, Cousins, Torvill and Dean before them, but at least Snow's show should put the new athletes' struggle into context.

Friday 31/01/14

THE LAST LEG (CHANNEL 4, 10PM) ****

January is said to be the most miserable month of the year.

There are few things that will raise our spirits (a get-out-of-the-gym-free card, a lottery win), so we'll accept any attempt at adding a touch of the light-hearted to these dark and gloomy evenings.

It is with open arms then that we welcome back this 'alternative' review of the week's events courtesy of comic Adam Hills in the award-winning gang show.

If you've not managed to catch this hilarious offering before, the series kicks of with Adam joined as always by his eagle-eyed sidekicks Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker, as well as a whole host of sporting and celebrity guests to delve through the talking points of the week, and even tackle some of the awkward subjects many people are too afraid to ask.

Now in its third series, The Last Leg was originally aired to run alongside the 2012 Paralympics every night following the main coverage on Channel 4. It provided a unique and refreshing look at disabilities, a topic which, even now, people shy away from discussing.

However, Adam, Josh and Alex clearly did something right, as the programme was brought back for an end-of-year special, and then another full series.

While Adam has been applauded for his comedy since arriving in Britain after leaving his native Australia, for Alex, The Last Leg has marked a bit of a life change, as he wasn't supposed to be a permanent fixture.

Alex says of the Paralympics: "I was a journalist, so originally I was meant to be a trackside reporter, and I went into the Paralympics as that. The very first interviews I did were the VIP ones at the opening ceremony - David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

I always knew I was going to be on the first bit of The Last Leg, because I'd filmed a pilot with Adam.

"So I only thought I'd ever be on the sofa for the first ten minutes of the first show. And the next day, I went to Arsenal to interview a load of their players about sitting volleyball, and I came back into the office and they just went "We're going to keep you on the sofa now, so you can't be out and about. You're going to be on the sofa every day."

And it didn't come as a shock to him that The Last Leg has become so well-loved.

"I wasn't surprised, because we knew that it was really good," Alex explains. "Me, Josh and Adam did a sketch for Stand Up to Cancer, and we were doing stuff that wasn't to do with the Paralympics, and we just clicked. It was instant. And I think we just realised that we could carry the same sort of humour to any subject."

This time around, amongst other things, the trio will be chatting about the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, encouraging the audience and viewers at home to ask questions about anything from the week without fear of judgement, and answering those difficult and delicate questions with their own unique hindsight.

It's going to be very interesting indeed...

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