Surprise Surprise

The last time I watched Surprise Surprise, it still opened with Cilla Black barking that song about being hit between the eyes. Disappointingly, Holly Willoughby, resident fairy godmother in this revival of the gushy wish-fulfillment show, never treats us to her version. But then, a lot has changed since Cilla’s day.

It’s much more A-list for one thing. This week, performance poet Jodi was rewarded for her charitable letter-writing campaign with a message from Stephen Fry (her hero) and a visit in the studio from Nicole Scherzinger (who she had previously expressed no opinion on either way). I guess we have to take it on face value that, in Holly’s words, Nicole had been so moved by Jodi’s story that she’d flown thousands of miles just to pay tribute. Though, by coincidence, she does have an album out this week, and did take the opportunity to perform her new single, apparently in Jodi’s honour. (Was I the only one disappointed she didn’t sing Cilla’s Surprise Surprise instead?)

Later, Pharrell Williams got in on the act by surprising another well-deserving fan in a restaurant. Pharrell Williams! When Cilla presented Surprise Surprise, the guests included Bruno Brookes, Wincey Willis and Dusty Bin.

Next up, a tribute to Di and Mike, a lovely couple who’d fostered more than 250 children. I don’t know about you, but if I was in the audience of Surprise Surprise and I’d fostered more than 250 children, I’d be more nervous than surprised.

Finally, we met Betty who, following the death of her grandson, had paid for the education of a Ugandan boy for 15 years, before losing touch. It was a moving story and, as the two were reunited live in the studio, I found myself grinning from ear to ear at the overflowing milk of human kindness.

Was I being emotionally manipulated? Probably. Is it a bit cloying and vaguely uncomfortable to watch? Definitely. But it’s hard to argue with Surprise Surprise’s mission statement of doing nice things for nice people. In a world of over-exposed celebrities, there’s no denying it’s refreshing to celebrate ordinary, unsung heroes once in a while. Even if, increasingly, that is through the medium of over-exposed celebrities.

TV extra:

Not Going Out

Not Going Out is that rarest of beasts: a mainstream BBC One sitcom with good jokes. The new series got under way with Lee Mack trying to disarm a bunch of subway muggers with some pointed bon mots. (Tip: it doesn’t work.) In an effort to man up, he joined a local boxing gym. ‘Aren’t you a bit old for boxing?’ asked long-suffering flatmate Lucy. Not at all, he assured her - ‘Frank Bruno was my age when he took on Aladdin’. Then he got beaten up by a schoolgirl. Not subtle, but I laughed.


The Great Fire

The Great Fire opened like a restoration version of Bake Off – except we all know events in that Pudding Lane kitchen are set to end with more dramatic consequences than a binned baked Alaska.

The opening instalment of this handsome four-parter worked around the obvious problem that everyone knows where it’s going with a winning mix of court intrigue, Popish plots and stoic paupers. And Charles Dance was marvellous as the King’s intelligence chief, issuing fruity threats like ‘You will not wish to be acquainted with the consequences of refusal.’ Eek.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 23, 2014

(c) Waitrose Weekend