Born on the Same Day

The premise of this new documentary strand – following the lives of three people with the same birthdate, only one of who achieved fame and glory – is so brilliantly simple, you wonder why no-one has thought of it before. (Actually, someone **did** think of it before, as the format originated in Norway - though how they filled the airtime once they’d used up all the members of A-ha is anyone’s guess.)

It’s a show about the choices we make in life, and the choices life makes for us. A distant cousin of the Queen, Ranulph Fiennes’ full title at birth was Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, which must have been a nightmare to sew into his PE kit. On the same day – March 7, 1944 – Ewart Rennalls was born 5,000 miles away in Jamaica, while Frances Kelly started life in the cobbled backstreets of Leeds.

As a toddler, Frances suffered third degree burns in a fire; packed off to hospital and denied any contact with her family, she became convinced she’d been abandoned. The scars, both physical and mental, ran deep. Ewart, meanwhile, was forced to swap Jamaica for ‘a tiny slice’ of terrace in chilly Birmingham, battling against racial discrimination as he built a successful sales career.

Sir Ranulph didn’t have to trouble himself with anything as boring as a job. His ambition to emulate his father’s military career was thwarted when he failed to get enough A-levels for Sandhurst (which is reassuringly meritocratic – though the dad-shaped void in his life is a sobering reminder that money and privilege are no firewall against heartache). Instead, he became the greatest explorer of the age, getting such bad frostbite he sawed off his own fingers in the shed. (He keeps them in a tin.)

He returned from one round-the-world trip a national hero, complete with flag-waving reception, even though he’d basically just been indulging a rich man’s hobby. Frances, by contrast, went about mending her broken childhood by quietly spreading what happiness she could, adopting a dying daughter and going on to foster 97 children. For this, there were no flags, no medals, no glory. And who cares, actually, when all you really need is love?


TV extra:


Jamie Johnson

In an era of American imports and cheap cartoons, CBBC continues to fly the flag for proper, homegrown children’s drama. This one, perfectly timed for Euro 2016, is about a young football prodigy starting a new life – and a new school  – after his mum ‘sold our best striker’ (ie kicked his dad out). With its shouty soundtrack, camera trickery and CGI pyrotechnics, it’s a long way from Grange Hill. But at heart it’s an old-fashioned tale of friendship, loyalty and standing up for what’s right. Plus some impressive keepy-uppy skills.


Alan Davies As Yet Untitled

Back for a fourth series, this round table talk show is like bagging a seat at the world’s best dinner party. Except you don’t get dinner. This week’s guests included Catherine Tate, David Mitchell and everyone’s fantasy party invite, Stephen Fry, whose anecdotes included buying petrol station snacks for Charles and Di, and his unlikely role in the Blur-Oasis Britpop war. The idea is for Alan Davies to come up with a title by the end of the show, but this week’s were all far too rude to print. That’s intellectuals for you.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 16, 2016

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