The Syndicate

I’ve never done the Lottery. I don’t agree with it. Not through some principled objection to taxing the poor or anything like that, but because of the queues it causes in newsagents, when you can’t pop in for a paper or a Curly Wurly without getting stuck behind someone who’s treating the place like a low-rent casino.

I’d never seen Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate, either, but rather high-handedly assumed I’d got the general gist: some people win the Lotto, fall out, learn that money doesn’t buy happiness, end of.

But perhaps I was wrong. Certainly, for this third series, Mellor has come up with a doozy of a twist: while Anthony Andrews presides over the dwindling fortunes of his crumbling stately pile near Scarborough – selling off the family silver, and even the odd Vermeer, to pay down their mountainous debts – what few servants are left rattling about the place hit the jackpot to the tune of £14.5m. Upstairs broke, downstairs rolling in it: that’s not so much turning the tables as setting fire to them.

Clearly, Mellor is gunning for the Downton pound here, a point reinforced by casting Cara Theobold – aka Ivy, the one who looked like Daisy but wasn’t Daisy – as the housekeeper, Sarah. (At one point, his Lordship grumbles to Sarah about his American visitors only coming for the grouse shoot ‘because they imagine they’re in an episode of Downton Abbey’, which is all very meta.)

The characters are deftly sketched, blowing in on a whirlwind of exposition that never feels forced: from Andrews’ ailing Lord – Brideshead: The Comedown, basically – and his shiftless stepson, resplendent in those rust-coloured trousers that only posh people wear, to the fabulous Elizabeth Berrington and Melanie Hill as a pair of no-nonsense Yorkshire domestics.

Lenny Henry channels the spirit of Dustin Hoffman as gardener Godfrey, who has Asperger’s and a head for figures, and is so convinced he’s found a winning Lotto formula, he’s annoyed to learn he’s become a millionaire through blind chance.

Throw in a bonus ball disappearance by a local beauty queen – for which poor old Godfrey looks sure to take the rap - and all the pieces are in place for an undemanding but thoroughly entertaining midweek draw.

TV extra:

The Magic Show Story

Paul Daniels won’t be deleting this gentle canter through the history of TV magic from his hard drive in a hurry. It’s years since the fun-sized trickster has appeared on telly as anything other than the butt of snide jokes, but here he was, being lionised by the current generation of tattooed street magicians (or ‘buskers’, as Daniels called them) as ‘a genius’, ‘fast, sharp, shrewd’ and ‘the man’. Dynamo was even described as ‘a Paul Daniels for the YouTube generation’. Though he probably won’t put that on his tour posters.


The John Bishop Show

John Bishop opened his new Saturday night variety showcase by balancing a small child on his head. ‘How good is that?’ he beamed. Shall you tell him or shall I?

Try as I might, I just can’t warm to Bishop, whose humour always seems flabby, obvious and in need of a good buff from a professional joke polisher. And the other acts were barely any better: I’m afraid I only laughed once during the whole 45 minutes, and that was a joke about oven gloves. Maybe it’s my age.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 4, 2015

(c) Waitrose Weekend