TV COLUMN: The Dresser, Hugh’s War On Waste, The Jeremy Kyle Show

James Waller Davies
James Waller Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

The BBC is certainly fighting its corner just lately. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, is conducting the 10-year review of Aunty Beeb’s charter, a review, which in the current climate of public sector cuts, waivers like the sword of Damocles over the corporation’s neck.

In response, the BBC has gone back to its old bag of tricks and is pulling out some rabbits of the like older viewers might remember from the 1970s, especially in its production of one-off dramas. In The Dresser (BBC2) we got what is sure to be one of the highlights of the year and a nailed-on BAFTA for one, if not three, of its cast.

The cast was stellar. Two knights of the realm: Anthony Hopkins (Sir) and Ian McKellen (Norman) as the ageing actor and his dresser, respectively.

Add in two of Britain’s leading female actors in Emily Watson and Sarah Lancashire, plus a deliciously subtle cameo from Edward Fox and you could have been forgiven for thinking the play could have directed itself – but it didn’t, yet another superstar, Richard Eyre, did.

The play takes personal relationships and stretches them to breaking point through the alternating claustrophobia of back stage and the glare of the public performance. It left its audience emotionally exhausted, as though nerves were the strings of an overstrung violin being played in a wardrobe by a man in a straightjacket.

The chemistry between Hopkins and McKellen was electric – more so considering they have never worked together before. Much of the credit for this must go to McKellen who seems to be able to generate chemistry wherever he goes. It has not always been so easy for those working with Hopkins in the past.

The Dresser was the sort of treat that only the BBC can produce, and broadcast – adverts would have ruined it. Whilst the charter-review jury may be out on the BBC’s reach into digital media and regional news, there can be no arguments about where its natural home is. My home would have paid this month’s licence fee for The Dresser alone.

Hugh’s War On Waste (BBC1) saw perennial food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall back on another mission. This warpath, however, is rather well worn, but Hugh F-W does have a talent for bringing out the human angle.

The all-but-held-back tears of the Norfolk parsnip farmers brought home just how much the supermarket policies on vegetable shape over substance actually impacts on the producers. The weekly twenty tonnes of discarded, but perfectly good, odd-sized parsnips could have garnished the Christmas dinners of all of Lincolnshire.

It’s been almost twenty years since Hugh ‘dropped out’ professionally with his Escape to River Cottage and in the intervening years he has earned the credibility needed to lecture the nation on its food habits.

Hugh’s War On Waste comes at a pretty salient time. With the issue of food poverty and food-banks rarely out of the news, it is worth remembering that as a nation we throw away one third of the food we buy – enough food to solve the food poverty issue at a stroke. In the meantime, we all pay more for our food for the privilege of it being the same size and fitting neatly in the packet.

Priscilla Presley turned up twice this week after a long absence on UK television. Firstly, she was the victim of a very poor interview by Johnathan Ross (ITV).

Ross rightly asked if Mrs Presley was fed up of forever being questioned about Elvis – which she was, a bit – whilst proceeding to focus the entire interview on the dead and long gone former husband. Next, she appeared with Joanna Lumley, who at least had the honesty to call her show Elvis and Me (ITV).

Whilst at the gym, I saw something called The Jeremy Kyle Show on the big screen. Mr Kyle looks like a normal human being. None of his guests did.

The man who’d had his ears surgically removed and his eyeballs tattooed apparently wanted to be a parrot.

It was without doubt the weirdest – and most absorbing – bit of television I’ve seen this year. I’d run five miles on the spot with even noticing.