Tag Archives: tv

All’s well that ends well

Rose and I don’t really watch any television. Not live television, anyway, and this is evident, I suppose, from the fact that we’ve been in our current house for a little over three years now and haven’t yet got around to connecting up the aerial! But it goes back much longer than that: I did watch a few minutes of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, I remember, but I turned it off when the dancing nurses got too silly. That whole thing must all have been completely mystifying for most foreigners, I imagine, but even here I think we missed a golden opportunity: it could have been such a wonderful comedic event if only they had got Terry Wogan to do the narration! I would probably have watched the lot! Anyway, I can’t remember when I last watched any live TV before that, so I guess it must have been more than a decade ago.

That doesn’t, however, mean that we don’t watch anything. Almost every evening we settle down in front of the screen for a film, a TV drama, or something similar before we go to bed. And often these are things that have stood the test of time… which means they aren’t always available through streaming services.

So we get a great deal of value from our Cinema Paradiso subscription. Yes, DVDs through the post! This is how Netflix started, and in the UK we had LoveFilm, which was eventually bought by Amazon and then finally closed down. Cinema Paradiso continues, however, and has a much larger catalogue, I think, than anything streamable. In the last few weeks I’ve watched the latest Star Wars movie, early Fritz Lang films, Ealing comedies, and a recent ‘Nordic noir’ crime series. You don’t have the same spur-of-the moment decision opportunities as with, say, the current Netflix, but we do always have two or three disks of content that we know we want to watch — because we gave it some thought in advance — ready and waiting. After viewing, the disk goes in the pre-paid envelope, and Tilly and I stroll off in the direction of the postbox for her late-night comfort break.

We do, however, also have a reasonable DVD library of our own, and alongside the Woody Allens and Merchant Ivorys we have some box sets of things like Sherlock Holmes — Jeremy Brett, of course — and Star Trek, especially the original series and ‘Voyager’.

We find these can be very good ways to finish the evening, because you can be sure that, whatever other issues you’ve had to deal with during the day, and whatever challenges the crews may encountered on the nearest M-class planet, by the time you go to bed, Captain Janeway will have the ship back on course for home, James T. Kirk will have sorted out the enemies with a nice clean and sporting right hook, and all will be well again. You don’t have to wait for the next episode to relieve the angst or stop hanging from the cliff.

It was a more down-to-earth recommendation that led me to start writing this post, however! We bought ourselves a Christmas present of the complete Miss Marple, and, even though we’ve seen them all before at some point, we often can’t remember whoactuallydunnit. It has proved to be a very good purchase, and we can comfortably recommend that before bed — whatever you may have had to endure in the day’s news, Zoom calls, or tweets — heading to St Mary Mead with Joan Hickson is a very pleasant way to finish the day.

Two-one, two-one, two-one, two-one…

The people of Liverpool are celebrating, after their football team beat Manchester City yesterday and so reached the top of the Premier League, for the first time in thirty years.

Now, it might surprise regular readers, and those who know me now, to discover that I used to be a Liverpool supporter!

The little town of Ware, where I grew up, wasn’t close to any major football-playing city. I think Tottenham Hotspurs probably counted as our most local team, but it seemed impossibly far away, and there was no particular reason to go to Tottenham. There never is, as far as I can gather.

So in the playgrounds of my youth, the kids claimed allegiance to a wide range of different teams, and I realised that I was going to have to come up with an answer to the regular question, “Who do you support?”. Pointing out that they meant “Whom” clearly wasn’t achieving the desired results. But I was an observant child, and it was immediately apparent that if you responded to that question with the name of a losing team, it resulted in jeers and humiliation. Why would anybody want that? In the 70s, Liverpool seemed to be winning everything, so I decided I was a Liverpool supporter, and life was better, though I was still stumped when they asked, “Who’s your favourite player?”. I don’t think I could name any of them.


I’m not sure when I last actually watched a football match on TV. It certainly wasn’t in this current millennium; but I do vaguely remember seeing a couple of matches of the World Cup in the early 90s, when we were staying with friends who were enthusiasts. And it was an enjoyable experience, partly, perhaps, because I did feel some engagement: I had an opinion on whether England should beat Germany, when I would have had none about the relative merits of Aston Villa vs Manchester United.

I haven’t really had the time to watch any other sports since, I don’t think. (Except the Boat Race, of course – that goes without saying.) Still, all of this history is in some small way commemorated by the fact that I feel glad that the people of Liverpool have been celebrating, though I hope they maintained their social distances while doing so.

Thirty years is, after all, quite a long time to be ridiculed in the playground.

Update: John Naughton pointed me at Simon Kuper’s very readable piece on Why Football Matters. Recommended.

My sun shall rise in the east…


Dawn breaking beyond the River Cam, taken from Grantchester Meadows last week.

The title of this post, of course, is a line from the excellent track ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’, by Jon & Vangelis, which is playing as I write this.

And here’s another bit of trivia for you: in the first episode of the ITV TV series Grantchester, we see Sidney and Amanda enjoying themselves by swinging out over the river on a rope attached to a tree branch. I recognised the tree immediately, but the usual rope (which you can see by clicking on the image to get a larger version) had been replaced with a frayed one for the purposes of the filming. The rope, of course, gives way when Amanda (Morven Christie) is way out over the river. I have come perilously close to the same thing in the past…

Universally Challenged?

Christmas-University-Challenge-Series-3-Gonville-&-Caius-1600“Television”, said Noel Coward, “is not something one watches. It’s something one appears on.” But it’s quite strange to have done both, having watched myself on University Challenge just now. (See my earlier post.) I’ve been on TV and radio a few times, but they’ve generally been broadcast live, or in other regions, so I’ve seldom had the chance to see myself at the same time as others do. A most bizarre experience.

Anyway, those who are curious (and in the UK) can see the show here for the next few days. I won’t spoil the suspense, except to say that we didn’t disgrace ourselves. My contribution was rather larger, I hope, than the cameras suggest, but still small. I was, however, blessed with excellent team-mates, and it was all great fun.

A couple of things that might interest regular viewers, that hadn’t previously occurred to me, especially about the starter questions…

The first is that the programme flatters the home viewer. When watching starter questions in the past, I’ve been smugly pleased if I can yell out the answer before the person on screen. But the contestant has had to think of the answer many seconds earlier, press their buzzer, wait for their name to be announced, and then respond. In fact, when you’re on the set, it takes a bit of time to realise that it’s your turn, because you get no feedback on the desk to indicate that you have buzzed first until Roger announces your name. This all takes some time, especially on the (very rare) occasions when he has to say “Gonville & Caius: Stafford-Fraser”! At that point, you have to form some coherent words and speak them out confidently.

The second is that the programme is edited, though very lightly. They try to do it ‘as live’, not least for the benefit of the audience. But there are occasions when contestants responded either a bit faster or a bit slower during the filming than was apparent in the broadcast. Then there are sometimes one or two retakes for technical reasons at the end, so you can be in the unenviable position of having to repeat, earnestly, an answer which you know by then to be false… In general, though, the broadcast is a pretty accurate representation of what it felt like at the time.

Lastly, of course, there are often more people who know the answer than get credit for it, because you usually can’t tell on screen who else is buzzing. I know there were several times where more than one of the Cambridge team, and no doubt several Oxonians too, were pressing their buzzers almost simultaneously, but only one light comes on. Fortunately, Lars Tharp and Mark Damazer were particularly speedy, and they, of course, came from The Right Place.

Anyway, lots of fun, and anyone who’d like to watch any further rounds can find the broadcast times here.

Update: It turns out that at least two of the episodes are available on YouTube, so anyone really keen can see our entry in the first round and the final.

Living in the past

One of the great things about video rental services like Netflix and Lovefilm is the easy access to TV favourites from the past. Even better, you don’t have to buy a whole series if you find the first disk a disappointment.

Rose and I have always liked Ultraviolet, a modern vampire miniseries from the late 90s, and the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations from the 80s.

Now we’re going further back: we’re currently half-way through Danger UXB – wonderful stuff – and are looking forward to Wings, of which I have only the vaguest childhood memories beyond the good theme music. Actually, the end of the eighties was about when I stopped watching TV, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Any other recommendations?

Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of revisiting these. Will Blake’s 7, a favourite of its time, and roughly contemporary with Star Wars, stand up to several evenings’ watching when the cheapness of the BBC’s special effects is viewed through modern eyes?

Ah well… if things prove disappointing in outer space, there’s always All Creatures Great and Small

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser