TV highlights week beginning Saturday, August 24

Saturday 24/08/19

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (ITV, 9.10pm)

Hard to believe it’s 21 years since David Briggs, Mike Whitehill and Steven Knight came up with an idea for a quiz that would change the world of TV quiz shows.

The trio had honed their skills as games creators for Chris Tarrant’s Capital FM radio show. When they developed ‘Cash Mountain’, the title, like parts of the format, went through a lot of changes.

After a lot of tinkering and fine tuning, Briggs, Whitehill, Knight, and perhaps most importantly ITV were happy with the result. The question was: would it work?

By September 4, 1998, that first edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? went out to the masses on ITV, and to everybody’s relief, became an overnight success. Before long every wag down the pub was saying “Can I phone a friend?” or “Is that your final answer?”, while makers of quiz machines fell over themselves to get versions in said pubs as soon as possible.

Obviously it also touched a chord around the world with many countries snapping up the format. In Angola for example, it’s called Quem quer ser milionario?, while the Swiss have a version called Wer wird Millionar?

Perhaps most notably it was a huge success in India, and formed the basis of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning drama Slumdog Millionaire.

In the UK it kept millions of punters on the edge of their sofas for 16 years. Eventually host Chris Tarrant decided to call it a day, and in 2014 the show was put on hold. Some thought it might never return to our screens, but the format was too good to resist. The biggest problem was finding someone who could fill Tarrant’s formidable shoes as host.

However, in May last year Jeremy Clarkson signed up for a seven-part 20th anniversary special, and took to the format like a duck to water.

One of the key rules for many great game show hosts is politely insulting the players. It worked for Bruce Forsyth, and as Clarkson was his typically abrasive self, suddenly WWTBAM got its mojo back.

Given the fact this series has been going off and on for more than 20 years, you’d think the top prize money would be closer to 1.7million pounds in line with inflation. But that aside, it’s still a hefty sum for lucky players to take home, if they have the mental skill and nerve to go the distance.

As ever, contestants have lifelines, including Ask the Audience, Phone a Friend and 50-50 available to them if they get stuck.

So, all that stands between the players and that cool million quid is 15 multiple choice questions, the distraction of a fine river of perspiration down their back and a mouth drier than the Sahara as Clarkson presses them for their final answer.

And if he’s really mean, the former Top Gear host will leave everyone hanging as those ever intrusive ad breaks leave us on the edge of our seats.

For now, settle back and enjoy as the ‘fastest finger first’ round dictates who will go through to that debut match.

Sunday 25/08/19

Peaky Blinders (BBC One, 9pm)

One of the most talked about BBC Two dramas of the past six years is back for a new run, and like the anti-hero at the heart of the saga, it’s finally been promoted to the big leagues.

For newcomers, Peaky Blinders takes place in Birmingham during the early 20th century, and centres on Tommy Shelby MP (Cillian Murphy) and his gangster family.

With a 2018 Bafta for Best Drama Series, and its fanbase swelling, there was little wonder this latest run was eventually given a BBC One slot.

In the first of the new season, the world thrown into turmoil by the financial crash of 1929; opportunity and misfortune are everywhere. When Tommy is approached by a charismatic politician with a bold vision for Britain, he realises that his response will affect not just his family’s future – but that of the entire nation.

Inspired by true events from the late 19th-century, it’s another feather (or should that be razor blade?) in the cap of Steven Knight, one of Blighty’s most successful one-man media armies.

Not content with co-creating Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (which also returns for a new series this week), the Birmingham-born writer and director has also given us some of the most critically acclaimed dramas of the past few years.

From hit films Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises to recent blockbuster The Girl in the Spider’s Web, he’s also written and directed Tom Hardy vehicle Locke, and helped craft his sublime period drama Taboo.

Steven’s come a long way from his early days, scripting Jasper Carrott and Robert Powell’s BBC One sitcom The Detectives in the 1990s. If that was one of his first steps on the showbiz ladder, safe to say he’s now teetering at the top.

Back in 2013, it was a bold move making a period drama a gangster drama about Birmingham. After all, the smart money was more content with playing it safe with yet another crime saga set in London, New York or Chicago.

Of course, the fact nobody had tackled the Midlands-based subject before was exactly what helped make Peaky Blinders one of the most original series of the past decade.

Hollywood turns out plenty of projects like Boardwalk Empire, The Untouchables and Gangs of New York, so it was about time British TV makers looked closer to home for their dramatic inspiration.

And when it comes to creative energy, Knight has enough to power the national grid. Okay, not all of his projects work. Movie thriller Closed Circuit flopped; Allied, the Second World War drama starring Brad Pitt was a snoozefest, and the less said about his recent movie Serenity the better. However, Knight has far more hits than misses, and this new run should underline the fact with heavy strokes.

With an acclaimed cast, including Helen McCrory (on top form) as Aunt Polly; Paul Anderson as Tommy’s sidekick Arthur Shelby, and Aidan Gillen as the wonderfully named Aberama Gold, this fifth series should keep millions gripped for the next few weeks.

Monday 26/08/19

Poldark (BBC1, 8.30pm)

It’s the last ever episode of Poldark (well, unless anyone fancies remaking it again in another 40 years). And if fans feel sad about saying goodbye to the period drama after five series, they should spare a thought for the cast.

Eleanor Tomlinson, who has seen her profile rocket since she took on the role of Demelza, says that this final season has been a bittersweet experience. “It’s very sad it is coming to an end but we have taken these characters on the best journey they could have gone on, so it seems right to take a break now.”

It seems it’s hard for her to choose which aspect of Poldark she will miss the most. The actress says: “I will definitely miss the fans; their support has been amazing and without them we wouldn’t have this show… I will really miss Cornwall, it has been a huge part of this show, it is the heartbeat of Poldark and getting to go there every year for a few weeks has been incredible.

“I will miss the support there from the fans and seeing how much it means to them in Cornwall, it has been a wonderful journey to all have gone on together.”

She adds: “I will also miss our incredible crew and the wonderful cast. You become a family when you work on something like this for so long and I am looking forward to seeing where everyone goes and getting together for reunions.”

But many fans will be glad to hear that’s there one person in particular it will be hard for Eleanor to say goodbye to – her on-screen husband Aidan Turner. “I love Aidan – we have a very fun relationship. We work very differently which actually works really well when we are filming, and is part of the reason we have such great chemistry on screen. We are fiery with each other, staying true to our characters, and I will really miss working alongside him. He has been a huge part of my life and a great friend.”

While it may be a wrench saying goodbye, at least Eleanor will have something to remember Demelza by. “As a gift from the props department I was given a small collection of the hand-written letters Demelza has written or received throughout the show’s run. One of which was the love poem Hugh Armitage (Josh Whitehouse) wrote to Demelza, which is so beautiful.”

As the final episode gets under way, will Demelza also only have letters to remember Ross by as her husband gets in deeper with the French invasion force, putting his marriage and life on the line in the process?

Meanwhile, Morwenna and Drake are ready to welcome their baby, and George thinks he’s found a way to undo his arch-enemy once and for all.

And if Eleanor’s story about the love letters got you wondering what Aidan Turner was given as a memento, he went home with the Poldarks’ kitchen table.

Tuesday 27/08/19

The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, 8pm)

Cakes, bread and pastry – where would we be without them?

Well, the world would certainly be a much duller, tasteless place if they’d never been invented. But some people are better at throwing such things together than others – and that’s where the Great British Bake Off comes in.

Where else could we have got to know the likes of Kim-Joy Hewlett and Rahul Mandal, the stand-out contestants from the class of 2018? Rahul was, of course, eventually crowned champion, and the nation cheered – we had collectively fallen in love with the unassuming Indian research scientist based in Rotherham.

In a cynical world, Bake Off is cosy and comforting – and long may that continue. Part of that atmosphere is generated by its hosts and judges. Okay, so Paul Hollywood has a reputation for being a hard nut to crack, but since Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig and Prue Leith joined the show following its move from the BBC, he has thawed somewhat – and is clearly having more fun than ever before.

Plus, last year’s finalist, Ruby Bhogal, recently revealed in an interview that how the programme is edited doesn’t do the quartet justice – they’re even kinder and warmer in real life.

“It is an extraordinary honour to part of this national treasure of a show,” says Toksvig. “Noel Fielding is one of the nicest guys in show business.

“The first time I met him I felt like I had met a rather wayward cousin whose take on the world made me laugh. The only downside is that he has much better dress sense than I do.”

“GBBO is one of my favourite shows,” adds Fielding. “I’ve always loved brightly coloured cakes and Sandi Toksvig so this is a dream come true for me! It’s basically the double.”

The show’s switch to Channel 4 has been a massive success. The original deal was for three series, but it was announced earlier this year that a contract has been signed for another two, while a junior version, hosted by Harry Hill, will also be made.

“We are delighted to have extended Bake Off’s stay on Channel 4,” reveals Richard McKerrow, chief executive of production company Love Productions. “We have been hugely encouraged by the audience response and feedback the show has received and are thrilled to be bringing Junior Bake Off to the channel.

“It seems particularly appropriate to be announcing news of the extension on Channel 4 as we enjoy Bake Off’s tenth anniversary on British television.”

The 15-part spin-off is expected to air later in the year, but for now, the focus is on the original format, as we prepare to meet this year’s contestants.

Tonight they will tackle their first three challenges, which involve making a fruit cake with a twist, a retro classic in the technical challenge, and a showstopper inspired by the birthday cake of their childhood dreams.

And don’t forget to tune into Friday’s Extra Slice, in which Jo Brand will meet the first baker to leave the tent.

Wednesday 28/08/19

Kevin’s Grandest Design (Channel 4, 9pm)

Without Kevin McCloud’s tribute to the brave souls who risked everything on new builds and renovations, Channel 4 would have been a much poorer station.

Over the years there have been 180 episodes of Grand Designs, but which have been his top five? Well, ahead of the new run, we get a chance to find out.

With handcrafted hobbit houses made of hedgerow and stuck together with dog-lick to other brave and bold constructions to choose from, he revisits the buildings and people who have most inspired him over the years.

It’s anyone’s guess which will be top of the list, though Ben Law is in with a chance. In 2002, with the help of friends, the woodsman featured in series three took eight months and 300 barley bales to build his home.

It’s possible that a 1915 converted Kent water tower shown in series six might also be in the running. And another possible contender is an Irish castle from the 2012 season.

“It was a really interesting project to follow,” explains Kevin. “It didn’t seem to be exemplary as a conservation project, but it was mad and out there. It’s an extraordinary tale of connection to place and connection to this landscape and to memory.”

One thing we can guarantee is that a 100-foot long houseboat from 2007 won’t be shortlisted. Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Laine hoped the Medway Eco-barge would impress Mr McCloud, but it was easily one of his least favourite projects.

Of course a lot of builds over the years have been unfinished before their show aired, which some might say is a good cliffhanger for future seasons, but Kevin isn’t one of them.

“I don’t like to finish a series with unfinished projects,” he explains. “People sitting through an hour of television want to see the resolution. They want to know that it’s been worth it.”

Obviously over the past decade we’ve endured one of the worst recessions in history. It could have led to home builders and renovators being more cautious, but Kevin thinks the credit crunch helped fuel creativity.

“People have to be more cautious, but they are more inventive, and far more ingenious because they have to be,” he explains. “You used to have to write a cheque to get out of a hole. You can’t do that now. You have to think your way out of a hole, and that’s good for the design, good for the project.”

Given the fact there have been so many iconic buildings in films over the years, it’s amazing that Kevin and his team haven’t made a Grand Designs Goes to the Movies, or something similar.

“What a great idea!” he enthuses. “Yeah, that’s a series isn’t it? We could do the Kubrick sets of 2001; ancient Rome in Gladiator; Hitchcock’s settings – there’s that wonderful Fifties architecture in North By Northwest, and Portmeirion in The Prisoner.”

We might have a long wait for that potential project, but at least one of TV’s best loved presenters will be back with a new run of his regular show in the coming weeks. And unlike many film-set homes, they (hopefully) won’t fall down during a gale.

Thursday 29/08/19

China: A New World Order (BBC Two, 9pm)

There was a time when China was a mysterious place, seemingly closed off from the outside world and unwelcoming to visitors.

During that period, the few views we got of it came from news reports, old footage and stories, and the art world.

But in more recent years, that has begun to change and doors to the west have been opened. It’s relatively common to visit the country on holiday; those who do are rewarded with some amazing sights and sounds, while the people are friendly and welcoming.

Businesses have ventured out there too; after all, China is a massive market, and some experts have predicted it may overtake the US as the world’s major player.

Now even the BBC is getting in on the act, having entered into a new partnership, having previously worked with Chinese broadcasters to co-produce such programmes as Dynasties and Blue Planet II.

The corporation is set to work with Migu, China Mobile’s only digital content subsidiary, on One Cup, A Thousand Stories, which will tell the remarkable story of tea and its impact on China and other civilisations around the world. No doubt as a nation of tea drinkers, Britain will feature heavily throughout.

“I am delighted that we have secured our first production commission in China and will be making this fascinating and ambitious factual series for Migu,” said Lisa Opie, managing director for BBC Studios Productions, shortly after the series was announced. “It’s incredibly exciting to be sharing our story-telling and production craft with new audiences and with content that has been specifically developed for this market.”

Bin Wang, CEO of Migu, added: “BBC Studios Productions makes some of the best factual programmes in the world and we are thrilled that they are producing this landmark series for us. It is a great opportunity to draw on their production skills and knowledge, covering a subject that is so important to us.”

But before we get to see the fruits of their labours, we have an opportunity to delve into another, more serious side of the country.

This three-part documentary series offers viewers an insight into what has happened to China since 2013, when President Xi Jinping first came to power.

When he took over the role, he was largely unknown to his counterparts in the west, which could have caused numerous problems – what could everyone expect from this mysterious figure who was suddenly in control of a rising superpower, having taken command of a formidable military while simultaneously becoming head of an economy crucial to people’s lives around the world?

His rule has not been without its controversies so far, with loyalty to the ruling Communist Party seemingly valued above all else.

The programmes have been made by Bafta-winning director and producer Richard Cookson, and if they prove to be as gripping as his previous works – which include editions of Channel 4’s Unreported World and Dispatches, as well as numerous one-offs for the BBC – they should be very compelling indeed.

Friday 30/08/19

The Rob Rinder Verdict (Channel 4, 10pm)

As anyone who has seen his daytime TV show – or indeed his stint on Strictly Come Dancing – will know, Rob ‘Judge’ Rinder is a man of many talents.

Not only is he a qualified criminal barrister, he’s also a TV natural. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that Channel 4 has decided he should be dealing with weightier matters than the minor disputes he sorts out for members of the public on his courtroom series Judge Rinder.

In fact, Ben Wicks, the Creative Director, Comedy and Entertainment at Expectation, the company behind this new series, seems to think his talents might even be wasted on The Rob Rinder Verdict, which sees him taking a look at what is going on in the world today.

Ben says: “Rob Rinder has the caustic wit of Joan Rivers, the critical faculties of Clive James, and a legal mind so sharp he could negotiate a Brexit that could keep everyone happy. But sadly, he can’t as he’ll be on Channel 4 getting to the bottom of 2019 in a savagely entertaining manner.”

That’s quite a claim, although we probably can all agree on the ‘savagely entertaining’ bit.

If Rob does seem very at home in front of the camera, it may be because he initially set out to be an actor rather a lawyer.

Growing up, he performed with the National Youth Theatre – he once claimed he turned his back on the stage after coming up against Benedict Cumberbatch at an audition as a student and realising the future Sherlock star was much better than him. (Luckily, Rob didn’t hold it against him, and they went on to become good friends – he was one of the three best men at Benedict’s wedding).

But even when he decided to concentrate on the law rather than drama, the barrister didn’t totally leave the idea of TV behind. He wrote scripts in his spare time, and even approached ITV with an idea to bring back the 1970s drama Crown Court. The channel passed on that idea, but a producer thought Rob would be perfect for his own Judge Judy-style daytime show.

The viewers agreed, and it wasn’t long before other channels started taking an interest. In 2016, he appeared on Strictly, where he more than made up for the occasional lack of technique with his sheer performance value and finished a respectable fifth.

Then in December 2018, he hosted the one-off Rob Rinder’s Good Year Bad Year for Channel 4, which led to this new series.

Over the next four episodes, he’ll be putting famous faces and politicians alike under the spotlight and taking a closer look at the week’s biggest talking points.

Even though he could probably do that alone – especially if those claims about him being a cross between Joan Rivers and Clive James are to be believed – he will be getting a little help from some celebrity guests, including Channel 4 comedy mainstays Katherine Ryan, Big Narstie and Tom Allen.