Hold the Sunset

Look, there’s no easy way to say this, but the thing is… I’ve never really liked Fawlty Towers. Or Monty Python, come to that. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Does that make my position as Waitrose Weekend TV critic untenable? Should I be considering my future?

My unfashionable opinions aside, John Cleese’s first British sitcom in 43 years is clearly A Big Deal, and you’d imagine it must have taken one heck of a script to tempt him back to a BBC salary after all this time. Right?

The first red flag warning that this might not be the case came in Hold the Sunset’s opening moments, in which Edith, played by Alison Steadman, got a bit flustered by the recycling (because, hilariously, you have to separate it into different bins) while Phil (Cleese) argued with Peter Egan’s standard-issue sitcom neighbour about dog poo. ‘He’s very regular,’ observed Edith of said neighbour’s morning routine. ‘So is his dog,’ said Phil. No, really, he did. I’m not lying.

Phil and Edith are former sweethearts who, now widowed, have decided to take a chance on a new life in the sun together. So far, so poor man’s Last Tango in Halifax. But their plans are scuppered when Edith’s son Roger (Jason Watkins) announces he’s left his wife and kids and is moving back home in an attempt to rediscover his lost childhood. By the end of the first episode, Roger was stuck with his bum hanging out of a window, shouting for his mummy and telling Phil to ‘bog off!’, like the last 30 years of comedy history had never happened.

The wheezing, groaning script (by Charles McKeown, who had walk-on parts in Fawlty Towers and The Life of Brian) is a scandalous waste of talent like Steadman, Watkins and indeed Cleese, who plays Phil with a touching vulnerability far removed from Basil Fawlty’s car-thrashing histrionics.

As a result, I suspect we’ll find the sun setting on this one pretty quickly, actually. But then I’d probably have said the same thing about Fawlty Towers, so who knows?

TV extra:



Back for a second run, Stefan Golaszewski funny, poignant tale of a long-suffering widow (Lesley Manville) burdened with the world’s most appalling family is a masterclass in how to do a **proper** comedy about autumnal hopes and dreams. While Lisa McGrillis provides the belly laughs as heroically dim bulb Kelly, it’s Peter Mullan’s would-be suitor Michael who tugs at the heart strings with the most anguished portrait of unspoken desire since The Fast Show’s Ted and Ralph.


The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000-Year-Old Man

The revelation that the first modern Britons had dark skin and blue eyes made big headlines earlier this month. This fascinating documentary – a sort of Who Do You Think We Are? – told the bigger story as a crack team from the Natural History Museum used cutting-edge DNA analysis to rebuild ‘Cheddar Man’, Britain’s oldest skeleton. ‘We’re not just conjuring this up out of nowhere,’ explained one expert of the dramatic results. ‘We really do have scientific data.’ How very unfashionable.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 22, 2018

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