This article first appeared on Reaction.
Caroline Aherne at the BBC, BBC4 & iPlayer
If you were compiling a list of the top 10 funniest women in Britain over the last 20 years, Caroline Aherne would undoubtedly feature on it. This half-hour tribute to one of Britain’s greatest ever comedians was far too short.
Aherne burst onto the scene playing chat show host Mrs Merton in 1994, as well as various other characters on The Fast Show. It hardly seems possible that this was 27 years ago. She never thought of herself as an actress, yet her portrayal of Denise Royle in The Royle Family was at times incredibly moving, as well as brilliantly comic. Many critics consider The Royle Family her finest work – looking back we see it as a long running series, yet it actually only ran for two years. If I’m honest, I never found it particularly funny. It didn’t really rate in terms of belly laughs, a stark contrast to The Mrs Merton Show which could leave your sides aching and your cheeks almost numb with its machine gun fire rate of one liners and putdowns. The most famous, of course, was when Mrs Merton asked an almost speechless Debbie McGee, “So what first attracted you to the millionaire, Paul Daniels?” She also had a cutting edge and an acid tongue, reducing Bernard Manning to a gibbering wreck after she questioned him about his self-admitted racism.
In The Fast Show she played the Cypriot weathergirl whose only line was to predict that the weather would be “Scorchio”, yet each time she said it, it raised a huge laugh. She also played Renee, the wife of henpecked husband Roy, who was one of my favourites.
Caroline Aherne wasn’t just a wonderful character actress, she was a brilliant comedy writer. She really was an all rounder and it is a tragedy that she died so early, at the age of 52 in 2016. This programme is a timely reminder of her immense talents.
Winston Churchill’s War, Sky History
Sometimes you wonder why TV channels bother to commission documentaries given the facile nature of so many of them. Unfortunately, this is the case with Winston Churchill’s War. You know you’re unlikely to be impressed when the narrator can’t even pronounce the name Amery.
This is a four part series which purports to shed new light on Winston Churchill as a war leader. It will fail in every way if the shallow first episode is anything to go by. Indeed, the whole of the first episode, bar the last three minutes, is all about Churchill’s pre-Number Ten life, with far too long spent on making spurious comparisons with Adolf Hitler’s upbringing and pre-war political career.
I understand that sometimes, in order to attract a wide audience, you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator and assume no knowledge in your audience, but this programme appears as if it’s made for a teenage audience, rather than one with at least a basic knowledge of history. I mean, if you didn’t have a basic love of or interest in history why would you be watching programmes on Sky History, formerly known as the History Channel, anyway?
Even worse than that, Churchill’s character and record are infantilized to such a degree that the viewer starts to wonder why bother continuing to watch. It was as much as I could do to get to the end of the first episode. Surely the next three episodes can’t be as bad. Can they?