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TV preview: our pick of the week including the last episode of Benefits Street

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: February 10, 2014

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Monday 10/02/14

BENEFITS STREET (CHANNEL 4, 9PM) ****

Telly bosses aren't daft.

The welfare system has long been a hot topic, and so they knew that airing this series would provide much debate across the country - but could they have anticipated just how much fuel it was going to add to the fire? Probably not.

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Benefits Street first stunned audiences five weeks ago, following the exploits of 'White Dee' and the other residents of James Turner Street, in the Winson Green district of Birmingham, one of the UK's most benefit-dependent thoroughfares.

In that short space of time, it has become one of the most talked about programmes in years, providing plenty of content for social media, endless column inches for the newspaper industry and even questions in Parliament.

The programme simply set out to explore the day-to-day routines of a close-knit community, and highlight some of the challenges they face, including poverty, illiteracy and drug and alcohol addiction, but, as it would turn out, it's done so much more.

According to the politicians and media coverage, benefits pay for a life of luxury and easy living among those unwilling to work, all at the expense of the hard-working tax payer.

However, this controversial programme prides itself on showing the realities of life on benefits, and the residents' attempts to find their way through life on the bottom rung of our economic ladder.

Among the residents are the aforementioned Dee, who's happily taken on the role of the street's matriarch, offering her shoulder to those with addictions and money woes, self-confessed alcoholic James Clarke (whose story is particularly sad) and young parents Mark Thomas and Becky Howe.

Between them all, they have divided opinion and provided, erm, lively debate up and down the country.

And if you want further evidence that Benefits Street has stirred up controversy, this episode, the last in the series, is being followed by a debate addressing some of the issues raised.

Chaired by Richard Bacon, it will see a panel representing views across the spectrum - including those of the people featured in the series - taking questions from a studio audience.

Of all the hype surrounding the programme, Channel 4 Head of Factual, Ralph Lee, says: "This is a series which reflects the reality of day-to-day life for some of the residents of a single street who, for the most part, rely on benefits to survive. It does not and never has set out to reflect the experiences of every person who receives benefits yet it has triggered a national debate about state welfare at a time in which further welfare reforms are being proposed. We feel it is timely to provide a forum in which these issues can be raised and discussed."

And with the debate airing live and the interactive aspect allowing for viewers to submit their own questions, chances are this touchy subject won't be wrapped up and laid to rest within the hour slot.

Tuesday 11/02/14

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? CHRIS'S FINAL ANSWER (ITV, 9PM) ***

It's a bittersweet time for Chris Tarrant.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has not only recently celebrated its 15th birthday, but has now bowed out of the limelight for good.

The final episode of the dream-making game show aired last week, and in the company of celebrities Dom Joly, James Nesbitt, Dave Myers, Rachel Riley, Kevin Bridges and Chris Hoy, Chris doled out those all-important questions for the very last time.

WWTBAM? is now the most internationally popular TV franchise of all time - airing in more than 100 countries world wide - and has even been thrust into many families' Christmas Day festivities in the form of a board game.

It's the end of an era, and so it's only fitting that the man at the centre of it all would have a few words to say about the highs, lows and controversies surrounding such a phenomenally successful programme.

In an hour-long programme Chris takes a look at some his favourite memories of the show, which debuted in 1998, recalls the contestants that made the biggest impressions and discusses the million-pound moments, including the first winner, Judith Keppel.

The lucky lady would be the first of five millionaires, while the sixth big winner, the 'coughing major' Charles Ingram, made headlines worldwide after cheating.

He was found guilty of deception in 2003 amid one of the biggest scandals game-show television had ever seen (mind you, he's been booked for all kinds of reality programmes over the years, so he's probably having the last laugh).

No doubt Chris will have something to say about that incident, as well discussing key moments from umpteen celebrity editions of the show.

There's been no end of familiar faces wanting to get involved in one of our biggest game shows. The likes of Fern Britton, Sir Alan Sugar, Patsy Palmer and even the big man himself Simon Cowell have all tried their hand at reaching the dizzying heights of that £1million marker. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife Jackie, amid great controversy, nearly hit the jackpot, but chose to walk away from the £1million question.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire will go down in television history - after all, the premise proved so entertaining that Danny Boyle used it as the focus of his Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

But how does the presenter feel about its demise?

"I'll miss it but I won't be hugely sad," Chris told The Telegraph. "I've had the best of it. When we first started, I thought we might get four years if we were lucky."

And even though Chris is now 67, he's got no plans to slow down. In fact, he explained to the Telegraph that he's busier than ever.

"All my mates say I should retire, and Jane [his partner] says I should - but I tell her I'll be at home all week, driving her up the wall. The reality at the moment is that I'm so busy I can't think."

Something tells us this isn't the last we'll see of Chris Tarrant...

Wednesday 12/02/14

LINE OF DUTY (BBC TWO, 9PM) ****

It got great reviews, featured brilliant performances and kept viewers hooked to their screens for five weeks - and then vanished without a trace, seemingly forever.

But, almost two years on, Line of Duty is making an eagerly awaited return to our screens - so it isn't a TV one-hit wonder after all.

For those who need a reminder, the first series introduced straight-arrow anti-corruption cop Steve Arnott and his colleagues, who were investigating the possible crimes and misdemeanours carried out by DCI Tony Gates.

Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar are among those returning to the drama, while Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine joins the cast as a rookie detective constable.

Sadly Lennie James, who played Gates, isn't in this series because Arnott and his team will be tackling an investigation into a different case of suspected police corruption.

Series writer and creator Jed Mercurio says of the focus of the series' investigation: "I wanted to create a character as far from Tony Gates as possible.

"Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton appears to be a mild-mannered, backroom detective _ and her social and professional isolation make her a figure of mistrust. Playing against type, Keeley Hawes is an absolute revelation."

Denton is the sole survivor of a police convoy ambushed while escorting a protected witness. Arnott immediately suspects she tipped the perpetrators off - but proving it may be difficult.

"At first when I went and met Jed and Douglas, the director, they weren't too sure whether Lindsay would be on the dark side or not, which was so fascinating for me," says Hawes.

"I was sent the scripts and I just sat there and read them one after another in one sitting. I still had no idea and I begged them to tell me - regardless of whether I got the part I just needed to know!

"They told me that they hadn't decided so it

was quite incredible to go in and play the scenes completely not knowing whether I was guilty or otherwise. I've never had to do anything like this before."

There was one aspect of playing Denton that Hawes wasn't so enthusiastic about, however.

"I didn't love going into the make-up truck every day and having them look at me saying 'yep, that's great!' without even brushing my hair, actually only putting a bit more dark under my eyes!

"But it's quite liberating once you get used to not even bothering to wash your hair and people just adding a bit more grease. There is one point where she has really been through the mill - by the end of that scenario, I think nobody has ever looked that bad on the television screen. It's liberating for me as I have played lots of glamorous characters and this is the absolute opposite."

But is Denton guilty or not? Hawes won't spill the beans, and thank goodness for that - this is one series we're looking forward to watching unfold for ourselves.

Thursday 13/02/2014

THE HAIRY BIKERS' ASIAN ADVENTURE (BBC2, 8PM) ****

It must be a hard life, being a TV chef - no sooner have you released your latest tome of recipes, over which you've doubtless slaved for months, and already your audience is clamouring for you to dream up some more. It must be like being a mum, but to a family of thousands.

Yet it must be done - TV cookery, it seems, has a similar tenet to academia: publish or perish.

Among the more prolific chefs of recent times are cheeky northern chappies Si King and Dave Myers, better known as the Hairy Bikers.

They're rarely far from our screens, whether they're packing their pans in their panniers and embarking on their Europe-wide 'Bakeation', helping us to shed the pounds as the Hairy Dieters or to put them back on over Christmas, Si and Dave have demonstrated a tremendous quantity of recipes from the corners of our living rooms.

Of course, for every gastronomic adventure they embark upon, there's a book to go with it.

Cynics may see this as a way of cashing in on the success of a series, but really, a cook book is far more use to anyone who's actually going to prepare the food than a TV show - after all, who's going to drag the telly in to the kitchen and cook up a storm at 8pm on a Thursday?

The duo's latest book cropped up for pre-order online in November, giving us all a taste of what their next series may entail. In their Asian Adventure, they look set to cause a stir(fry) as they pack their bags and head out East to explore the roots of some of their favourite Asian dishes.

They're kicking off in Hong Kong, where they learn about the incredible versatility of the wok when used in Cantonese cuisine at a street-food stall.

At breakfast time, they find out that the most important meal of the day reveals a surprising legacy of British rule, before the duo are sent on their way with a traditional Chinese good luck ceremony.

Elsewhere in the series, they're heading to places as diverse as Thailand, South Korea and Japan (their take on the Japanese pork dish tonkatsu is, we're promised, something special). While many in the UK tend to lump 'Asian food' together, through this series we learn there's actually a tremendous amount of variation between the countries' cuisines.

They explain: "One thing that we hadn't realised was the amount of regional variation. Thailand, for example, is almost as big as France and has as much diversity in its cooking.

The food in Tokyo is so different from the meals we had in the more traditional city of Kyoto."

We're particularly grateful, given the exotic and unusual ingredients that are often used in such far-flung places, that Si and Dave are so adept at putting their own spin on the recipes they uncover along the way. This is perhaps why their books are so popular - they bring a taste of the world into the kitchens and onto the tables of the average family.

And, after watching the boys in action, the meals you prepare at home will always have a story behind them.

Friday 14/02/14

BEN FOGLE: NEW LIVES IN THE WILD (CHANNEL 5, 9PM) ***

It's cold, it's miserable, and some of us aren't expecting any Valentine's cards - so isn't it tempting to daydream about how much better life would be if we could just leave the rat race behind and start again somewhere a little more tropical?

Ben Fogle can certainly see the appeal. "I'm one of those people who's been on holiday in the past, on a sandy beach beneath some palm trees, and wondered 'can I not just string a hammock up there and catch some fish like the local fisherman, and live like that?'"

And his series, New Lives in the Wild, sees him meeting the people who have turned that dream into a reality.

Of course, not everyone who wants to get away from it all is motivated by a desire to live like they're on holiday for 52 weeks a year.

Fogle says: "I think it's quite timely that we're in an age where we're going into a triple-dip recession, where people are financially strained, unemployment is rife, there's housing problems, and I think now more than ever people are looking at alternative lifestyles.

The series follows people who have done just that, they've left the grid and are living in wild, remote corners of the world, living - on the surface of it - a simpler life."

This week, Ben travels to Leyte, one of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, to meet 45-year-old 'Jungle Neil' Hoag, who was struggling to make a living as a Florida cabbie before finding love on the other side of the world.

Now, he's a coconut farmer with an adopted family, and appears to have ditched the American Dream in favour of a new culture.

But as Fogle discovers, Hoag's new home wouldn't be everyone's idea of a tropical paradise. The farmer and his young family live in a bamboo house surrounded by a harsh and unforgiving environment.

While lesser presenters may have retreated to the nearest five-star hotel, Fogle throws himself into his host's way of life, even slaughtering a pig and doing the island's version of the school run.

And along the way, he tries to find out why Hoag, a complicated man with a troubled past, has chosen to settle in the jungle - and whether his new existence really is less stressful than the one he left behind.

After all, Fogle believes that even if you're not worrying about wi-fi connections and the daily commute, it doesn't mean you won't find something else to fret about.

"The big question of the series is 'Is life ever simple?' You may avoid some of those financial worries, but it's human nature to worry; are you going to have enough warmth, fresh drinking water, fresh food, and can you buy school books for your children?"

But even after experiencing some of the pitfalls of the 'simple life' first hand, Fogle hasn't entirely stopped daydreaming.

"I always come back thinking 'I'm going to make my life much simpler, and my children don't need all these toys, and I don't need all these gadgets and clothes." But you soon get back into the lifestyle and the culture in which we live."

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