Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ta-ra duck . . .

The passing of Coronation Street legend Betty Driver marks the end of an era down Weatherfield way. Many of us grew up with the character of Betty Turpin. There she was, bustling around behind the bar of the Rovers Return, often sharp of tongue and breathing fire. Yet for all that, she always seemed to be the kind of character who would have had a quarter of sweets in her handbag. She was the Nation's Nan, hankie poised up the sleeve of her cardigan, a reassuring word at the ready.

Betty Driver the actress was, for many, Betty Driver the film star and singer of the 1930s and 40s. It almost seems incredible that she came out of retirement to accept the Corrie role back in 1969. Some newspaeers have referred to her characterisation as that of a battleaxe. Yet she was no Ena Sharples and nor was she a harridan in the Ivy Tilsley mode. Betty was one of a kind. For me she will forever be remembered rolling towards a lake in a second hand Rover with Bet Lynch. She will be ferrying hotpots from kitchen to bar, locking horns with Alec Gilroy and delivering that deep, wicked chuckle.

Striking the right note

I think that filing any kind of critique about the pros and cons of ITV1's The X Factor is a little like pushing at an open door. Is there really any point? For me, the show has been a guilty pleasure for many years. I've always enjoyed the pantomime judging panel and have sometimes been surprised by decent performers. This week's instalment was something else though. The panel had obviously had a rocket up the backside courtesy of Simon Cowell, no doubt in full histrionic Dame Maggie mode. All Gary Barlow needed was a black cape and a cackle to make him the ideal villain. Not that any of his criticisms rang true. He merely seemed to be going through the motions. Tulisa looked uncomfortable with the entire show and Kelly was all over the place. She needs to go home, 'girlfriend'. As for Louis? You might as well have Dot Cotton on the panel.

The lovely Frankie Coccoza
The acts this year are, on the whole, not good. I was pleased to see Brookside's Bev Dixon on stage, looking a bit bigger but belting out a Cher number. Jane MacDonald would have been proud. Rythmix were there again, a messy hotch-potch of looks and sounds. Boy band muppets The Risk looked distracted, as were their vocals at times, but still remain favourites. Weep for Frankie Coccoza with his 1970s ladies hairdo and weak vocal. Go on, cry bitter tears for this most over-rated of performers.

I'm beginning to think that the Great British Public are falling out of love with Dame Cowell and his circus. Which leads me to believe that camp Eric Sykes lookalike Johnny will be this year's winner. Tripping around the stage like an embarrassing uncle on acid, he is however very likeable - something his fellow contestants (step forward Misha B - what does the B stand for? Bint?) are not. Viewers may well decide to punish Cowell and sink The X Factor forever by bestowing a victory on Johnny.

Like a Rhinestone cowboy . . .
Having recorded last night's show, I set off for the Royal Festival Hall and the farewell concert from Glen Campbell. As recently reported, Campbell is now living with Alzheimer's and made the decision to do one final tour before retiring. The evening was a delight, although quite emotional for some. Campbell's backing band included several of his children who supported him in every sense of the word. As for the music, well each song was a classic and was greeted with warm applause. Campbell joked "Without the songwriter Jimmy Webb, I probably wouldn't be up here doing this now!" From the joy of "Galveston" to the melancholy "Wichita Lineman", Campbell gave his all and given that he is 75 years old, this was impressive. A performer who has the X Factor plus a whole lot more.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Making a meal of it

When it comes to reviewing restaurants, I'm hardly Fay Maschler. I'm not even Faye from Steps. However, there comes a point when a disgruntled diner (that's me by the way) has to speak out. Yet again, I'm going to be jolly English and polite about it all and not even name the offending restaurant. I can confirm that this cheerless dump is situated on London's Charlotte Street.

Enter if you will, a restaurant devoid of any personality. This should have been a warning. The clientel were less than inspiring; a middle-aged couple sat in companionable, dreary silence, two excitable Italians and a smiling Japanese couple trying to make sense of the impossibly small tables. I thought I could hear someone weeping in the background but it just turned out be an elderly recording of Marianne Faithfull singing "As tears go by".

What onion soup SHOULD look like!
On to the menu then and I opted for a tasteless onion soup, topped off with a slab of lard masquerading as gruyere cheese. Removing this from the soup was akin to prizing a manhole cover up. Not to worry, I though, sea bass to follow. I wasn't quite prepared for the transparent remnant of fish that was hurried to my table, accompanied by four undercooked new (what? In 1985?) potatoes and a shaving of something which might have been ginger. I washed this delicacy down with the delightfully warm sauvignon blanc and waited for the 'fresh' bread which "might take some time because the electric oven has to warm up".

I shuffled off home and made a sandwich, the melody of "As tears go by" reverberating in my mind long into the night.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sky's the Limit . . .

Thank you British weather. One minute I'm sat outside enjoying a mellow evening, the next I'm jammed up against a radiator. Still, being indoors gave me a chance to catch up on the all the telly I've been storing on my Sky box. It really is time to have a clear out. I reckon if I page back far enough, I'll find episodes of Pebble Mill at One on there.

Dumbed-down Abbey?
Lots in the papers this week about Downton Abbey and the disgruntled viewing public. I agree, the ad breaks are numerous and littered about the show in a random fashion. The characterisations seem to have gone a bit mad too. Mrs Crawley, loveable in the last series for sticking up to Dame Maggie, now comes across as some meddlesome ratbag. Cora's facelift (surely not in 1917?) has not been remarked upon and the rushed storyline concerning the Irish valet was poor. However, on the positive side, Thomas the footman is less 'pantomime camp' than he was last year.

Be afraid . . .
I always record Location Location Location, basically because I'm nosy and like to shout when people even consider moving to a cottage. Anywhere. The latest episode I watched (which was probably originally transmitted in 2008 - I'm that far behind . . .) showed signs of the whole thing lurching towards parody. The first victims . . . err potential buyers were a lesbian couple, both of whom were played by Radclyffe Hall. This duo spent days wittering on about whether or not their cats would like each house and weeping in unfinished utility rooms. The other couple were dull married accountants who shuffled around the Home Counties droning on about kerb appeal and whether or not the coffee shops were any good. The vox pop with a group of twee yummy mummies would have had me running a mile.

Supervising the whole circus was Kirstie Allsop, now firmly in bellowing Rodean head girl mode and Phil Spencer, who seems to have morphed into a chortling would-be Sid James. However, they do get results and both are far richer than yours truly will ever be.

Queen of Quiche - Jo Wheatley
Highlight of the week was, naturally, the climax of Great British Bake Off. This has been a joy from start to finish. Hurrah for Jo Wheatley and her perfect mini Victoria sponges and congratulations to this most unassuming of winners. I will celebrate with an M & S jam bake a little later. Co-host Sue Perkins excelled although I notice that she is becoming, a little like Alexander Armstrong, omnipresent on our TV screens. One moment she was stuffing macaroons down her throat and the next she was yomping across Dartmoor with Alison Steadman. I am, of course, jealous.

If you're tuning into X Factor tonight, enjoy. If you're settling down in front of Strictly - I ain't interested.