Jane McDonald and Friends

Jane McDonald is having a bit of a Moment. In May, the former ship’s crooner-turned-Loose Woman beat her posher rivals to scoop a surprise Bafta for her camp-as-Christmas Channel 5 travelogue, Cruising with Jane McDonald. And now here she is, putting on the razzle-dazzle for a second series of her hit variety show. 

‘Tonight, from The North,’ boomed the announcer, ‘it’s the Wonder from Wakefield, Jane McDonald!’ At which point JM – in shimmering black dress and a lacquered ’do that was a feat of structural engineering in itself – was escorted downstage by two tuxedoed beefcakes to the strains of the Pussycat Dolls’ Don’t Cha.

Except Jane didn’t call it a dress, of course, she called it ‘me frock’ (later swapped for a fetching red pantsuit). She also calls the internet the ‘tinterweb’, introduces the ad break by announcing she’s going to have ‘a quick brew’, and makes jokes about her ‘bingo wings’.

It’s this earthy, northern humour that audiences love, and why this unpretentious, feelgood cabaret hour probably appeals to viewers who feel a bit abandoned by trendy TV types (while also being knowingly kitsch enough to capture a more... ironically inclined audience). With its sequined Vegas glitz and seaside postcard humour (‘A bit later I’ll be bangin’ away like the clappers,’ joked Jane, teeing up a Bhangra drumming item), it’s like a cross between Caesar’s Palace and the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. Plus there’s a bit of Surprise, Surprise thrown in, as Jane pounces on unsung community heroes and rewards them with (what else?) a free cruise.

Singer Gwen Dickey was introduced as someone who’s ‘worked with all the Js’: James Brown, Jay-Z and now Jane McD’. It’s meant to be funny, with Jane serving as her own punchline. But in the end credits she’s billed as ‘Star and Executive Producer’, and only a fool would argue with that.

The show finished with that drumming workshop (‘dohl drums – a proper cure for the doldrums!’ hooted Jane), followed by a medley of Motown hits. What more could you want on a Friday night (short of, perhaps, a meat raffle)?

TV extra:


Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map of Britain

‘Place is important in pop music’ said Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp as this three-part pop gazetteer began its decade-long road trip from the peacock strut of Soho’s Blitz club to the post-industrial wastelands of Sheffield, via Coventry, Glasgow and more. Extra points, too, for showing us the exact moment when punk rock died, with Adam & the Ants’ appearance on the Children’s Royal Variety Performance, sandwiched between The Krankies and Rod Hull and Emu.


Picnic at Hanging Rock

A hypnotic Natalie Dormer leads the cast of this surreal, unsettling adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s cult 60s novel, about the disappearance of a group of girls on a day out from an Australian finishing school on Valentine’s Day 1900. From the stultifying atmosphere of the college to the drowsy, dreamlike sequences at the eponymous rock, where the white-frocked pupils fell asleep in the grass like settling swans, it’s EM Forster with a dash of David Lynch nightmare fuel.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 12, 2018

(c) Waitrose Weekend