Absolute proof that ITV (or more specifically, Granada) still has the power to create something utterly brilliant when it wants to. The plot of Pierrepoint is pretty much explained away by its international title, ‘The Last Hangman’. In this true story, Timothy Spall puts in what just might be a career best performance as Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's last ever executioner.
This made for television film proved to be such a powerful work, it was deemed worthy of a theatrical and DVD release before actually being broadcast on ITV1, three years after it was completed, in 2008.
Admittedly, we could as easily have picked Palin travelogues Sahara or Himalaya as his representatives on our big list, as they're all reliably enjoyable. Indeed, Himalaya was very nearly our choice, including as it did brilliant moments like where Michael Palin amused a class of schoolchildren by doing a bit of slapstick with a shoe, and a thrilling moment where Palin met the Dalai Lama, only to be told by the Lama that he was a big fan of Palin's output. Sadly, that only meant his travel documentaries, not Life Of Brian or Flying Circus. Aw.
New Europe wins it for us, mainly due to it providing true insight into the former Eastern Bloc states, improving upon what is generally known amongst people in the UK (including us) - namely that they're all countries we’ll see drawn against a home nation in a World Cup qualifying draw, causing us to foolishly think "ooh, three easy points there". Palin took in the varied delights of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Transnistria, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and former East Germany, and there was barely any depressing grey anonymous architecture, or local residents plotting how best to sneak their families aboard the BBC truck in order to gorge themselves on our luxurious benefits system. Ouch, our expectations!
In a word: fabulous. We'll hold back from using the term 'life-affirming', as it'd make us sound like gushing idiots, but even that very nearly applies here. It's programmes like this, where you get to see that the vast proportion of Them Foreigners are actually perfectly friendly, personable, generous and splendid people, and that maybe your own personal outlook that people, of all creeds, colours and nationalities, are fundamentally decent human beings. A bit rubbish we might need that outlook confirmed occasionally, of course, but that's what happens when you're daft enough to read newspapers.
Speaking of newspapers. The bouncing Czech. The Aldi Rupert Murdoch. Captain Bob. The former MP for Buckingham. Call Robert Maxwell what you like, it won’t change the fact that David Suchet put in an impressive performance as the crooked newspaper proprietor. Not sure why you’d be looking to change that fact by trotting out misremembered insults from the pages of Private Eye, but there you go. Sadly, there wasn't a scene where Eye owner Peter Cook, with Ian Hislop in tow, phoned a furious Maxwell in New York, from Maxwell's own office in the Mirror Builiding after having sneaked in.
Now, the above event is something we were a bit worried we'd imagined - a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search for '"Peter Cook" "Robert Maxwell" office' results in... er, this blog. Luckily, a bit further down the search results is this Parkinson interview with Ian Hislop, where the full, majestic story is told. Really, it’s possibly the greatest Peter Cook anecdote of all time.
Several years ago, on a trip from north Wales at Essex to help a friend collect a sofa (long tedious story), we came up with an idea for a film. It would be a road trip across Europe featuring two people, with the USP that the first half of the film was told solely from the perspective of one person, the second half from the other, with all manner of twists and revelations being sneaking out of the second viewpoint. Now, clearly, what with us having shag-all actual talent, or even the willpower to follow up ideas, the thought pretty much left our heads about as soon as we’d stepped out of the van. With that in mind, we can't really think about pursuing any legal action against Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of two-part Channel Four serial Britz.
Told over two nights, Britz looked at two British Muslim siblings, Sohail and Nasima. The first film followed Sohail, who unbeknownst to his family had joined MI5 in the hope of preventing future terrorist attacks on British soil. The second film followed Sohail's story, who grows increasingly militant after heavy-handed anti-terror laws lead to the persecution and eventual suicide of her best friend.
The two parts were told completely in isolation, with the only real crossover being the conclusion of each story. While the message put out by the whole serial isn't one "the establishment" would enjoy, that anti-terror laws are needlessly harsh, the programme proved to be truly captivating and eye-opening.
One supplemental point – Channel Four promoted the show by using billboards of the two main characters above the strapline “Whose side are you on?”, as if they were assuming a healthy proportion of those viewing to ponder “hmm, think I’ll side with the axis of evil on this one…”.
The person Paste Magazine dubbed the funniest man of the decade, Dave Chapelle is one of those performers you automatically warm to. Maybe it's the way Chapelle often seems to barely suppress a smirk during his performances, or maybe it's just the excellent material, even (maybe especially) when dealing with edgy subjects. Maybe the best-known example of this was the spoof Frontline report from the very first episode, dealing with Clayton Bigsby, a bland Klan member who had spent his entire life unaware that he was black. This was shown on BBC One during the clip compilation rounding off Red Nose Day 2005, as far as we know the only time a Chapelle sketch has been shown on ‘proper’ telly in the UK. A clear majority of his sketches land on the 'hit' side of the coin, too, with skits like ‘Pretty White Girl Sings Dave's Thoughts’ (as his thoughts are too controversial for America to hear coming from a young black man), ‘Life Like a Video Game’ (the folly of trying to carry out actions from GTA in real-life) or ‘The Niggar Family’ (a take on retrospectively insensitive 1950s sitcoms).
The second (and, to date, final proper) season of the show ended with the rather prescient "Black Bush" sketch. This dated from early 2004, still an age where the US media were fearful of criticising George W Bush, who up to that point had been protected by the theories that "he's still new, give him time!", "having a pop at the President would be letting the terrorists win!", "hey, we're at war, Saddam-lover!". The sketch - also featuring Jamie Foxx as "Black Tony Blair" and Mos Def as head of the CIA - made the point that had the President been black, there's no way he would have been given the benefit of the doubt in the lead up to the Iraq War, and would surely have been called to account for trying to deflect attention by banging on about gay marriage when the war wasn't going to plan.
Now, here's a picture of Glenn Beck, from March 2009. About six weeks after President Obama took office.