Not quite the end of the world then. Bake Off, we were told, had gone soft on soggy bottoms, as Strictly will soon dispense with cheap plastic gaud: the hosts of the first have gone innuendo-free, while contestants in the dance-off will have to sport sequins sans the shiny microplastics that choke phytoplankton. Some people, assuredly higher in the food chain than phytoplankton, spluttered about modern worlds gone mad.
In the end, Bake Off suffered not a jot from the absence of smut – turns out it was just Mel, Sue and their (admittedly nicely) dirty minds all along, rather than an essential ingredient such as flour, bathos or envy. It’s a great tribute to the presence of Sandi Toksvig, and particularly Noel Fielding, that we hardly miss them at all.
All was bucolic and delightful for Channel 4’s second hosting of this staple, which has wormed its way into our national calendar as surely as Bonfire night. Caustic humour, gambolling lambs, jam-slathered wagon wheels, the right mix of eccentrics (mumsyish mum, twirly-moustached gent who looked like he would wear co-respondent shoes, fun and panicking gay chaps of many hues, plus a controversial Frenchie who looks a shoo-in, though it was touching to hear her on the phone to her dad, smiling through the happy-tears).
If there was one sour note it wasn’t really C4’s fault, other than for taking the moolah. Sandwiching the ad breaks were commercials for the Amazon Echo that seemed expressly designed to halt in its tracks Jeff Bezos’s drive for global domination. The ads showcased the appalling limitations of this saddest of machines, now selling in its quintillions: did phytoplankton evolve for this? “Alexa, dial mum’s number.” “Alexa, remind me to book a trip to Pisa.” “Alexa, turn on the kettle.” Alexa, remind me to order some freewill, a set of fingers, maybe a brain.
The will-they-won’t-they subplot in Bodyguard was resolved as early as episode two (of six), as Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden finally got their claws into each other in a maddening interlude that, I suppose, had to happen but happened with such a gulping, grudging absence of chemistry that it simply distracted from an otherwise engrossing, classy couple of seriously nervy edge-of-the-seat hours. If I was ever the type to be “offended” by anything, ever, I would have been offended by the sex rather than the violence.
This rampagingly grown-up thriller from Jed Mercurio, which signals as surely as Bake Off (or having to wear proper shoes again, or indeed Cousteau’s bitterlovely The Last Good Day of the Year), the pre-autumnal return of decent drama to our terrestrial screens, is a triumph, with niggles. Madden and Hawes are indeed already rightly hailed as phenomenal: he with his troubled Scots stoicism, she as an acid politico with a tongue for the populist G-spot (like Theresa May but with a personality and principles; in Hawes/Julie Montague’s case both traits rather foul, but we’d still be grateful for small mercies).
The action mesmerises, nearly stops you drawing breath: I’d thought the first 20 minutes, the talking-down by Madden of a suicide bomber, hardly surpassable, until the fleeting minutes in which a blood-spattered Hawes crouches whimpering in the armoured car, the every thwock of a fresh bullet reminding your heart that it really needs to get on with doing its own busy little stuff.
It is still a little tough to chew on, the idea of the very man to whom one must trust your life being the very man, and now the shagee, who’s currently toying with taking it – I still reckon the decidedly unsnowflakey Sgt David Budd would have more grudges against real Afghan IEDs than amorphous “b.liar” politicians, and a work ethic that would militate against the bitterest of vets’ outraged regrets – but in Mercurio’s hands this is holding together, and in Mercurio’s hands two twists await around every corner. Already, the wars between the Met and MI6, wormholes of squirrely intrigue, have the firm smack of veracity, amply aided now by the presence of Gina McKee. Gory, gripping, splendid. Less bad snogging if you will.
Bombs, morals and a frankly surprising amount of nuance for a franchise based on a Tom Clancy book also feature in Jack Ryan, which kicked off its first series on Amazon. It’s really rather good, all things considered. John Krasinski does a bang-up job of channelling Harrison Ford’s filmic CIA analyst, all Boy Scout morals and bad-boy pecs, right down to gawpy grin, as we rehearse the early years, and the Yemeni/Syrian terrorists are portrayed in way more dimensions than they might have expected from an American industry that can still struggle to find Yoorup on a map.
A surprising found gem – sometimes I just love my job – was The Joy of Winning, in which Dr Hannah Fry took us through the 20th century’s history of game theory, a philosophy that sought, and still seeks, the answer to no less a question than how we should seek to get on with each other. From John von Neumann to the Nash (A Beautiful Mind) equilibrium, the prisoner’s dilemma and Robert Axelrod, she led us, in highly entertaining fashion, to the conclusion that a basic moral code to civilisation has its basis not in religion or spirituality but in pure mathematics. We cooperate because, as both we and the animals have found down the evolutionary millennia, a canny mix of bluff and cooperation will always out. Along the way we got, gloriously, clips from Jasper Carrott’s Golden Balls, now being studied for its interactions at Harvard, and, more depressingly, news of something called “the tragedy of commons”, the ways in which small acts of selfishness can harbour huge consequences. Truly, a must-rewatch.
The BBC Proms season is already becoming a landmark to look back on, from the very first night (Anna Meredith’s Five Telegrams) to such highlights as Havana Meets Kingston, the folk night, the Bernstein night, the war years composers, and all my moans about the BBC flee like snow off a dyke as I marvel anew at the immense quality of the coverage.
I stand and applaud for about two seconds every weekend, though, when Proms Extra gives us David Owen Norris’s Chord of the Week. Last weekend he was on “the saddest chord you ever heard”. Though you never heard it. Mozart didn’t actually write it; he just suggested, in his Clarinet Concerto, the tension and ebb to a ghost chord: our ears fill in what we do not hear. A couple of weeks ago, Owen Norris surpassed even himself by likening a Rachmaninov chord to a painter’s faint lines of perspective, scrubbed afterwards: it made sense, even to me, at the time, and garnered a round of awed applause from Katie Derham and guests. Probably the most consistently intelligent three minutes you’ll watch on this or any other television this year.