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Charlie Catchpole's TV column.

Night of the Long Nose

BUT IT'S NOT A VERY COMMANDING PERFORMANCE FOR POOR BIG EARS

W HEN did they drop the Command bit from the title of the Royal Variety Performance (Sunday, BBC1)?

I used to love that word Command.

It was as if Her Maj was saying: "One doesn't care if one happens to have a long-standing engagement at Mr Bernard Manning's Embassy Club on the same date.

"One will jolly well present oneself at the London Palladium to entertain one, or else one can kiss one's knighthood goodbye."

What happens now?

The gig is at the Lyceum, a glorified ballroom.

Liz and Phil don't even bother to turn up, preferring to stay in with a six-pack and a Domino's pizza and send the boy Charles along in their place.

And when HRH lets it be known that - allegedly - he'd rather like to see that comedian chappy Jethro, he's told: "Sorry, mate. No can do."

Allegedly.

Poor old Charles.

On occasions like this the thought must cross his mind that there might be something to be said for this republican business after all.

Let President Blair sit there for more than three hours (we only saw the edited version) and try to figure out who Phil Cool is supposed to be and wonder if Jim Tavare will ever dump that routine with the double bass.

Typically, the most original act on the bill - the brilliant comic from Bolton, Peter Kay - died a death.

His revelations that Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds is really the theme from Crossroads and that Celine Dion actually sings "I believe that the hot dogs go on" went over the audience's head like a Cruise missile. The Singing Stick Insect, Barry Manilow, was the brightest of the stars who serenaded Charles with tributes to Frank Sinatra.

What a combination: Ol' Long Nose, Ol' Blue Eyes and Ol' Big Ears.

I was pleased to see Tiffany from EastEnders (Martine McCutcheon) had recovered sufficiently from her fall down the apples and pears to sing They Can't Take That Away From Me.

If only they would. She displayed all the stage presence of a JCB digger.

Her hair looked as if it had been plugged in to the mains.

And when she opened her not inconsiderable lungs, a noise came out which made the fog-horn voiced Cruise star Jane McDonald sound like Whispering Frank Butcher.

Whoops! There I go again. Confusing make-believe with reality.

Jane McDonald is, of course, a fictional character.

So on and on it went.

We got ballet. We got - gawd help us - mime.

We got that mob who look like Big Issue sellers and bang dustbin lids with sticks.

We got opera.

And finally we got The Spice Girls.

Oh yes. It ain't over until the crap ladies sing.

UP THE CREEK WITHOUT A HAIRBRUSH

ANOTHER day, another costume drama.

In Frenchman's Creek (Sunday ITV), another boat came in.

On board was "a Frog pirate" who was fighting for the deposed King James II against the upstart William of Orange.

Every now and then, the characters would give each other little history lessons along the lines of: "We are at war with France. King Louis is supporting James..."

(As if they wouldn't already know.)

Lady Dona St Columb - crazy name, crazy gal - was bored with life at court and with her wet husband (the drippy one from The Vicar Of Dibley).

Dona (Tara Fitzgerald, putting her best chest forward as usual) took off for Cornwall, crying: "I want clean air!" Or possibly clean hair, since she looked as though she'd overdone it with the Harmony hairspray.

There she bumped into the pirate, Jean Aubrey (Anthony Delon).

His hair was even longer and stiffer than hers - although not half as stiff as his acting style.

He'd hardly said "come on my boat" before they were jolly rogering away in the best tasteful, soft-focus fashion, intercut with close-ups of waves breaking on the shore, a ship ploughing through heaving seas, its main- mast standing proud and erect, etc. If trains had been invented in 1688, there'd have been a shot of one going into a tunnel.

Glossy tosh. Complete nonsense. Utter twaddle.

Loved every minute of it.

Charlie's Clanger

DON'T know what I was thinking last week when I called Coronation Street's Scouse squatter Jackie Dobbs MAGGIE Dobbs. I really must pay more attention.

And so should the Street's producers.

When Jackie's son, Tyrone, broke into Curly's house, he complained that there was no beer in the fridge.

Yet when Jackie moved in, she pulled two cans from the fridge and told Tyrone: "I think we're gonna enjoy living here!"

(And another thing: How come Curly's phone hasn't been cut off after all this time?)

Like Gavin Powers of Doncaster, Yorkshire, you could win pounds 30 by writing (on a postcard or the back of a sealed envelope only) to: TV Clangers, The Mirror, 1 Canada Sq, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP.

Faith, soap and charity

HEAVENS above! Religion at Christmas time in EastEnders.

The modern version of Christ chasing the money-lenders out of the temple was the crowd in Albert Square jeering when the lights illuminating the Ian Beale sponsored Nativity crib ("Another miracle, Beale's market prices") spluttered and went out.

Latest score: God 1 Mammon 0.

Dot Cotton kept quoting the Gospel according to Matthew.

"When thou doeth thine alms, let not a trumpet sound before thee... Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not..."

The Gospel according to Matthew Robinson, EastEnders executive producer, is: "When thou doeth thine scripts, let not a storyline pass thee by... Consider those who have departed this show. They toil not..."

So Ruth worried that she was pregnant, Gianni and Annie were relieved to discover they weren't brother and sister and Jamie found himself in trouble for breaking the first commandment of Albert Square: Thou shalt not grass.

Oh. And Tiffany came out of her coma. What were her first words?

"Woss goin' on?"

A nurse explained to Terry: "She'll be confused for a while."

So, no change there, then.

Cookson menu

always a la cart

BREN in Dinnerladies the other week described Catherine Cookson as "Horses and carts, giving birth and cutting the heads off mackerel".

She'd have been delighted to note that Colour Blind (Wednesday and Monday ITV) opened in a fish market.

I couldn't swear that those were mackerel being wrapped up, or whether their heads had been cut off.

Probably not. Because in those days before the Great War, a fish-head would make a nourishing meal for a family of 12, and you could boil the bones up for soup after.

Several horses and carts went by. So far, so good.

And then, blow me! Within a matter of minutes, Bridget McQueen (Niamh Cusack) had given birth.

The baby being brown (the father being a sailor from Sierra Leone) and this being Tyneside years before the arrival of Andy Cole or Ruud Gullit, it wasn't long before passions, tempers and nostrils were flaring and a man in a flat cap was bursting into a dockside pub shouting: "The nigger's killed Matt and run off with the bairn! Ha'way lads!"

By last night, the bairn Rose Angela had grown into a beautiful young woman and was working as a maid at The Big House, where the Young Master tried to have his evil way with her. That was a surprise, wasn't it? Then the boat came in, bringing her long-lost Da' back.

"We'll never be parted again," he whispered, hugging her.

"Never again," she sighed.

But Da' had a very nasty cough. Sounded like consumption to me. You know what's going to happen in the last part tonight, don't you?

Bren certainly does.

Charlie's Choice

Men Behaving Badly (Christmas Day, BBC1, 9.50pm)

DOMESTICITY is looming. Gary and Dorothy decide to try for a baby (although Gary doesn't seem to be trying quite hard enough).

Tony and Debs move in together. And - horror of horrors - Tony gets a job.

Continues Boxing Day, concludes Monday.

Writer Simon Nye and the cast insist that this mini-series is the very, very last. No more. The end. Finito.

Yeah, yeah. They said that about Only Fools And Horses and One Foot In The Grave too.

My Cold comfort

MIDDLE class drama is boring, says Mr Brookside, Phil Redmond (who, when I last heard of him, was living in a large detached house in a gritty inner-city area of Twickenham in Middlesex).

So I don't suppose he watched the frightfully middle class Cold Feet (Sunday, ITV), which has packed more-in-your-face, edge-of-your-seat drama into an hour than you'd get in six months of Brookside.

Not to mention pulling in about five times the audience.

The last episode was an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Although I wouldn't want to bump into any of these people in a wine bar, I found I really cared about their unravelling relationships, their sad sexual misadventures, their petty jealousies.

I laughed out loud at the riotous black-tie dinner punch-up. I cheered when drunken Jen turned the fire extinguisher on her husband's vile boss.

And I sighed when poor Adam, who had hired a gospel choir to accompany his marriage proposal (as you do), suddenly realised the tears on Rachel's face were not tears of joy.

Adam swore he didn't care who was the father of her baby. But when Rachel said it was her estranged husband's, the look of misery on his face told her everything she needed to know.

Her train pulled out, leaving Adam dejected and alone. At that point, drat! I got something in my eye. What a class act it's been. Exquisitely written, stylishly produced, superbly performed. More, please.

PRICELESS exchange between Roy and Hayley in Coronation Street.

HAYLEY: "How big?" ROY: "Well, big."

HAYLEY: "Size is important, you know."

ROY: "Is it? Well, I've always managed with quite a small one, up till now." HAYLEY: "Well, now you've met me."

What were they discussing? Christmas trees, of course. Why, what did you think?
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Catchpole, Charlie
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 22, 1998
Words:1674
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