Babe – My Family and Other Animals – Doctor Who – The French and Saunders Christmas Special – Julian Fellowes Investigates a Most Mysterious Murder – The Unique Dave Allen – The American President – 27 Dec 2005

I thought yesterday’s schedule was pretty packed, but at least that had a couple of things I’d already covered.

Today, we have eight recordings, three of which are whole movies, and although I’ve already had tapes with two of them on, I didn’t say much about them, so I think this might be another marathon entry.

But on the plus side, everything is great.

The first recording is Babe. It’s hard to fathom that this sweet little movie came from the same man who made Mad Max: Fury Road, but that’s range for you. OK, maybe he didn’t direct this, but  This is an edited recording, I’m afraid, so straight into the film. Incidentally, I do have this on another tape, but it was early in the blog, so I didn’t say much about it.

I notice the cinematographer is Andrew Lesnie, who would go on to work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One thing I like about this film, like all great fairy stories, is that it’s not afraid to be dark. The film opens with young Babe watching his mother being taken away in a meat truck (although he doesn’t know what that is at the time).

He’s picked as a prize in a “guess the weight” competition at a local fair, and he’s won by Farmer Hoggett, who despite his name, keeps sheep, not pigs. At the farm, he meets the sheepdogs, and their mother, Fly. When I was younger, my parents bought a dog from a family just up the road when their dog had puppies. Our dog was called Shep, and her mother was called Fly, so I always liked this link. Miriam Margolyes is her voice.

There’s a duck on the farm that has decided he’s a cockerel, and he crows every morning. This annoys Mrs Hoggett, who buys an alarm clock. So the duck plans to get the interloper and remove it from the house. Things go rather wrong, and a large mess is made inside the house when a lot of paints are knocked over. Farmer Hoggett doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out who the culprits are.

The male sheepdog, Rex, is very stern, and doesn’t like the idea of animals being things other than what they are. He’s voiced by Hugo Weaving.

Babe watches the dogs as they herd sheep. After they’ve had their turn, Babe gives it a go, but pretending to be a dog doesn’t get him very far. The sheep tell him that politeness is the way to go, and pretty soon he’s herding like a pro.

One day some wild dogs get into the sheep field. Babe drives them off, but his favourite sheep, Ma, is killed by the dogs. When Farmer Hoggett gets there, he sees the dead sheep, and Babe sitting there, with blood on his nose, and assumes the worst.

Fly swallows her dog pride and speaks to the sheep, something she never does, and learns the truth.

Farmer Hoggett is about to kill Babe when he hears Fly barking outside, and his wife tells him that there’s been reports of a pack of wild dogs from other farms. Lucky timing for Babe.

Farmer Hoggett decides to enter Babe in the local Sheepdog trials. But one night, the evil cat talks to Babe telling him that pigs aren’t for herding sheep, pigs are there to be eaten. Babe is so upset by this that he runs off into the rainy night.

Hoggett and the dogs find him the next day, freezing cold. The vet thinks Babe will die if he doesn’t get enough liquids, so Farmer Hoggett has to nurse him back to health, which he does while sing “If I Had Words”, a 1977 song by Yvonne Keeley and Scott Fitzgerald. I always wondered why this fairly niche pop song would be a favourite for someone like Farmer Hoggett. Maybe he was really a fan of Saint Saens’ Organ Symphony, which was the song’s tune, and is used on the soundtrack.

The climax of the film is at the sheepdog trials. Farmer Hoggett has entered Babe, and even though the committee running it think he’s mad, and/or bringing the event into disrepute, they can’t find anything in the rules to stop him. While this is going on, Babe goes to talk to the sheep he’ll be herding, only to discover that they won’t talk to him. Will Farmer Hoggett be made to look like an idiot? What can be done. And it’s now up to Rex, who has been in the literal doghouse for much of the film after he attacked Babe, to have his redemption arc, and run back to the farm to ask the sheep what to do. They tell him the secret password that Babe must use.

We don’t even get a scene where Rex talks to Babe and explains the password – it’s played out in a brief TV shot, which is a nice touch.

Then Babe has to herd the sheep. Babe talks to the sheep, and we see the TV coverage, the audience at the showground, Mrs Hoggett watching in horror and embarrassment, as she knew nothing about it, and the TV commentators are making jokes about the situation, as the music swells to a dramatic crescendo. Then the dramatic music stops. And the sheep start walking neatly through the obstacles. This scene is almost silent, with just the very quiet background sound. Until the sheep are herded into the final pen, Farmer Hoggett slowly closes the gate, and as we just barely hear the latch of the gate click, the whole audience erupts into a huge ovation.

Then the judges give their scores – all of them a perfect 100, including the head judge who wanted Hoggett to withdraw. And it’s here that the music returns, and triumphant main theme of the Organ Symphony.

“And though every single human in the stands or in the commentary boxes was at a complete loss for words, the man who in his life had uttered fewer words than any of them, knew exactly what to say.” “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”

What a great film this is.

Media Centre Description: Engaging fantasy based on Dick King-Smith’s classic story about an orphaned piglet which is adopted by a sheepdog and learns how to herd sheep. Babe at first seems destined to end up on the dining table at Christmas, but the farmer realises that the animal’s unusual talent may bring him glory in the sheepdog trials. With the voices of Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes and Hugo Weaving.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 11:35

The next recording starts with the end of an episode of Neighbours. There’s trailers for Chicago and 2005 TV Moments.

Then, My Family and Other Animals. It’s based on Gerald Durrell’s memoir of when his family moved to Corfu. Typically, their first problem on arriving is that none of the houses they are shown have toilets. “Why do you need toilets when you have the sea.” His mother is played by Imelda Staunton.

They’re helped by Spiro, a Greek taxi driver who had worked in England for some time, and helps them navigate the language barrier, and find a villa with toilets. He’s played by Omid Djalili.

His sister Margot (Tamzin Merchant) attracts some admirers.

Brother Larry is an intellectual, struggling with his writing.

Russell Tovey plays his other brother Leslie, who is obsessed with guns.

Gerald himself is played by Eugene Simon.

There’s quite a few guest stars. Is Chris Langham playing Greek worse than Omid Djalili playing Greek?

They have a number of houseguests, including Jason Watkins.

Miranda Hart

And Tom Goodman Hill, who plays a tutor for young Gerry, but is more interested in pursuing her sister.

I quite enjoyed this. While the thought of moving an entire family across the world on a whim would terrify me, I did like seeing young Gerald spend all his time exploring the insects and animals on the island, pursuing his own interests.

Media Centre Description: A new adaptation by Simon Nye of Gerald Durrell’s autobiography. The eccentric and bohemian Durrell family uproot themselves from 1930s England and settle on the Greek island of Corfu, where the young Gerald experiences a new life of freedom and adventure and has the chance to observe the animal kingdom.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 18:00

After this, trailers for Friends and Crocodiles, Chicago, DAB Digital Radio, BBC Three’s Outtakes and Judge John Deed.

Then, the start of Eastenders.

The next recording is another edited one. It’s the first of a Doctor Who double bill – The Unquiet Dead. In the cold open, an undertaker’s dead clients are coming back to life. And it’s not the first time, as the undertaker calls “Gwyneth! Get down here now! We’ve got another one!”

The Doctor and Rose are aiming for Naples in 1860, but end up in Cardiff in 1869. Rose has to dress appropriately.

Mr Sneed the undertaker talks to Gwyneth, his maid, about the walking dead grandmama. As they travel the streets looking for the woman, he asks her to use her ‘sight’. “She’s lost, sir. She’s so alone. Oh, my Lord. So many strange things in her head.” “But where?” “She was excited. About tonight. Before she passed on, she was going to see him.” “Who’s him?” “The great man. All the way from London, the great, great man.” Gwyneth is played by Eve Miles, her first appearance in Doctor Who, but she would return, first in Torchwood, as Gwen.

Who’s the great man Gwyneth is talking about? It’s Charles Dickens, in town to do his one man show, and played by Simon Callow, who is something of a Dickens scholar himself.

The dead woman is indeed in the audience of his show, and as Dickens is starting to recount A Christmas Carol, she starts glowing, and some kind of spirits start flying around. I don’t think, when I was young and watching 70s Who, that I would ever have imagined the show being able to do a scene like this, which feels heavily inspired by the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and which looks pretty good. TV effects had come a long way.

The Doctor and Rose are there, as are Mr Sneed and Gwyneth. Rose sees them take the old lady out of the theatre and follows them. Gwyneth tries to tell Rose that the woman is suffering from ‘brain fever’, but Rose can feel that she’s stone cold. And Mr Sneed somehow has some chloroform handy to kidnap Rose. I don’t know, maybe that’s standard issue for an embalmer.

The Doctor sees them leaving in their carriage, and jumps into the nearest one to follow it. It’s Dickens’ carriage, and he gets in, demanding the Doctor leave, until the Doctor realises who he is, and starts gushing like a fanboy.

Back at the funeral parlour, Rose wakes up – and so does the son of the dead woman, who she killed when she first woke up.

“There’s something inside the walls. The gas pipes. Something’s living inside the gas.”

The Doctor hears Rose shouting for help. He gets the dead people to talk. “Failing! Open the rift. We’re dying. Trapped in this form. Cannot sustain. Help us.”

Even after seeing all this, Dickens doesn’t believe what he’s seeing. He searches the dead bodies for wires. “I’ve always railed against the fantasists! Oh, I loved an illusion – revelled in them, but that’s exactly what they were, illusions. The real world is something else.”

Rose and Gwyneth talk. Gwyneth tells Rose about her life. They talk about various things, how Gwen lost her mother at 12. Then Gwen mentions Rose’s father. “Maybe your dad’s up there waiting for you too, miss.” But Rose hadn’t told her about her father. Gwyneth can see into Rose’s mind. She can see her life in the future. and more. “And you. You’ve flown so far. Further than anyone. The things you’ve seen. The darkness. The big bad wolf.” This is the second reference to Bad Wolf, after a line of dialogue in The End of the World from the Moxx of Balhoon, about the situation on Platform One being “a classic Bad Wolf scenario”.

The Doctor also realises Gwyneth’s gift, and decides they need a seance. This brings out the creatures who are possessing the corpses. They call themselves The Gelth. “Once we had a physical form, like you. But then the War came. The Time War. The whole universe convulsed. The Time War raged, invisible to smaller species but devastating to higher forms. Our bodies wasted away. We’re trapped in this gaseous state.” They aren’t to know, but this prompts the Doctor to want to help them, having lost his planet to the same Time War.

There’s a discussion on the morality of using the bodies of the dead to house the Gelth. Rose thinks it’s wrong. The Doctor, possibly driven by his survivor’s guilt, thinks it’s acceptable, and gets surprisingly cross. “Do you carry a donor card?” “It’s different, that’s…” “It is different, yeah. It’s a different morality. Get used to it. Or go home.”

Gwyneth agrees to help them, and they go to the morgue (of course it’s the morgue) which is the weakest part of the rift where the Gelth are coming through. The Gelth start appearing, more and more of them. And it seems they might have been economical with the truth. “You said that you were few in number!” “A few billion! And all of us in need of corpses!” Plus, they go from being friendly and blue, to being red and scary looking (again, definitely inspired by Raiders).

Rose and The Doctor are trapped in the morgue by the Gelth zombies.

Dickens escapes the house, pursued by one of the Gelth spirits, which is then sucked into the gaslight of a streetlamp. He goes back in and starts extinguishing the gaslamps, but opening the gas taps. He returns to the morgue, does the same thing, and all the Gelth are pulled out of the zombies. But the rift is still open. Gwyneth says “I can’t send them back. But I can hold them. Hold them in this place. Hold them here. Get out.” She takes out a packet of matches. The Doctor stays with her, but realises that Gwyneth is already dead, she’s just holding on. He runs, and Gwyneth strikes the match.

Then it’s time to say goodbye to Charles Dickens, who has been given a whole new lease of life and enthusiasm. He asks the Doctor if his writing survives, if people still read him. The Doctor tells him his works live forever. And the show ends with him walking through the snowy streets of Cardiff, wishing people Merry Christmas, and saying “God Bless Us Every One.” Lovely. So apart from going out in April, this really was the first Christmas story of the new series.

Media Centre Description: The Doctor takes Rose back through time to 1869. But in Victorian Cardiff the dead are walking and creatures made of gas are on the loose. The time-travellers team up with Charles Dickens to investigate Mr Sneed, the local undertaker.

BBC Genome: BBC Three – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 19:00

The next recording is another edited episode of Doctor WhoAliens of London. There’s a nice opening, where The Doctor and Rose arrive back at the estate, and the Doctor tells Rose that they’ve just been gone 12 hours. But when she goes to see her mum, Jackie is shocked to see her, and Rose sees “Missing” posters with her face on. Then the Doctor comes in and tells her they’ve been gone for twelve months, not twelve hours.

The Tardis gets tagged. Another appearance of Bad Wolf.

Jackie is (rightly) angry and suspicious of The Doctor. “How old are you then, 40, 45? What, did you find her on the Internet, go online and pretend you’re a doctor?” “I am a doctor.” “Prove it. Stitch this.” and she slaps him.

To get out of the flat, they head to the roof, and talk about how Rose can’t tell anyone about what they’ve done, so she can’t explain to Jackie where she’s been. “I’ve seen all that stuff, up there, the size of it, and I can’t say a word. Aliens and spaceships and things… and I’m the only person on planet Earth who knows they exist.” Then a huge Alien spaceship flies over her head. With the subtitle “PAAAAAARP!” That’s probably not a Viz reference – but given the rest of the episode I can’t be sure.

This whole effects sequence is magnificent as the ship flies over London, taking in all the landmarks.

I mean all the landmarks.

I’m not joking here. Literally all of them.

OK, maybe not all of them – here it’s heading down Whitehall towards Westminster Bridge and Big Ben, but they missed a chance to skim Nelson’s Column – about the only landmark they did miss.

They didn’t miss Big Ben, though. This was such a cool shot, and not really surprising they included it in all the trailers. It was the show’s Independence Day moment.

Incidentally, here’s a still from just before the spaceship hits, and if you look at the numbers on Big Ben’s face, you can see that the whole image has been flipped left to right. When it was shot, the ship hit the tower approaching from the left, but that crossed the 180 degree line and wouldn’t look correct when it was edited with the preceding shot and the subsequent shots, so they had to flip it to make it work.

The Doctor’s delighted, and wants to see what’s happening, but they can’t get near, and he doesn’t want to risk taking the Tardis in, in case it’s spotted. “So history is happening, and we’re stuck here.” “Yes, we are.” “We COULD do what everyone else does. Watch it on TV.”

These news montages are always fun. I wonder if that helpline number went anywhere. an 08 number implies a freefone number.

This was Tiffany Wells’ first appearance on the show, although her character didn’t have a name in this episode.

It looks like Jackie’s hosting an Alienwatch party. She makes a remark about having to let the Doctor come in. “Make him welcome or risk never seeing you again.”

There’s a Blue Peter clip, where Matt makes a cake spaceship. This would have been filmed specially, and fairly easy to arrange because then Blue Peter Editor Richard Marson is a massive Doctor Who fan.

There’s a lot of story beats covered by this TV montage. The spaceship crash landed in the Thames, a non-terrestrial body was recovered from it, and was taken for examination to “Albion Hospital”. Then we cut from the TV to inside the hospital, where General Asquith (played by Rupert Vansittart) is shown the alien body. He looks surprised. “And that’s real? It’s not a hoax or a dummy, or..?” but we don’t see the body yet.

“I’ve x-rayed the skull. It’s wired up inside like nothing I’ve ever seen before. No-one could make this up.”  The medical examiner is played by Naoko Mori, another actor who would later go on to appear in Torchwood.

Andrew Marr plays himself, reporting on the apparent absence of the Prime Minister, who hasn’t been seen since the emergency began.

One arrival at Downing Street is Joseph Green, Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on the Monitoring of Sugar Standards in Exported Confectionery. As Andrew Marr comments, “hardly the most important person right now” He’s met by Indra Ganesh, junior secretary to the MOD and ushered upstairs.

They’re interrupted by Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, Penelope Wilton. This was her first appearance, and she reappeared in The Christmas Invasion, just a couple of days ago. Her catchphrase of introducing herself with her identity card was established early.

Once they’ve brushed her aside, Green is taken upstairs, and informed “with the city gridlocked and the Cabinet stranded outside London, you become Acting Prime Minister.” In the Prime Minister’s office, he’s met by two others, Margaret Blaine from MI5 and Oliver Charles, Transport Liason. She tells Green there’s no more news about the Prime Minister. “I personally escorted the PM from the Cabinet Room to his car.” The car has disappeared. So Green, Blaine and Charles go into the main office, along with the emergency protocols in the event of an alien incursion. And once there, and alone, they just start laughing…

Rose catches the Doctor leaving the flat. She asks him where he’s going. He tells her this is a first contact situation, and Earth should be left to handle it alone, without him interfering. Rose says “Promise you won’t disappear” so he gives her a Tardis key. Notice it’s not some kind of sci-fi key shape, it looks like a regular door key. This was another deliberate design choice, so kids could pretend that their door key is a Tardis key.

The doctor goes to the Tardis, and he’s spotted by Mickey, who we haven’t seen yet in this episode. He runs down to the courtyard and towards the Tardis as it’s disappearing, runs into the wall, and does a pratfall. Mickey wasn’t treated with much respect in these early episodes.

Back at Downing Street, Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North is still trying to get face time with Joseph Green to talk abut cottage hospitals, but they’re all far too busy with very important alien business. But when they leave her alone next to the Prime Minister’s office, she just walks in and starts reading the secret briefing memo for alien incursion. Are they just very short handed in Downing street?

At Albion Hospital, Doctor Sato is hearing movement in the morgue. Meanwhile, The Doctor has piloted the Tardis there, and walks out into a room full of soldiers.

But Doctor Sato opens the door to the morgue drawer where she put the alien body, and what she sees makes her scream. The Doctor and the soldiers hear that, and immediately The Doctor switches to command mode. “Defence plan delta! Come on, MOVE!” I love this moment.

The Doctor finds the alien, which looks very much like a walking pig. It runs away, he tells the soldier with him not to shoot. But when it encounters more soldiers in the corridor, one of them shoots it. The doctor runs in. “What did you do that for? It was scared!”

Back at Downing Street, Harriet Jones hears angry voices outside, and hides in a cupboard. It’s General Asquith wondering why the acting government has done nothing at all. But Green, along with Blaine and Charles, don’t seem to be taking it seriously. And they seem to be farting quite a lot. Margaret Blaine says “I’m shaking my booty” – a line that my children found hilarious when it first went out, and they were six and four. Grown up Doctor Who fans didn’t much like the farting, if I’m remembering the reception on the forums, but I can attest it played very well with the kids.

General Asquith isn’t having any of it. “Under Section 5 of the emergency protocols, it is my duty to relieve you of command. And by God, I’ll put this country under martial law if I have to.” Then the three of them start unzipping their foreheads, and from her hiding place in a cupboard, Harriet Jones sees something clearly terrifying.

The Doctor is discussing the pig alien with Doctor Sato. “Now someone’s taken a pig, opened up its brain, stuck bits on. Then they strapped it in that ship, made it dive-bomb, it must’ve been terrified. They’ve taken this animal and turned it into a joke.” “So it’s a fake, a pretend, like the mermaid. But the technology augmenting its brain, it’s like nothing on Earth. It’s alien. Aliens are faking aliens? Why would they…?” she asks, but the Doctor has already gone.

Back at Jackie’s house, they’re toasting the Martians when Mickey comes in, and everyone goes quiet. He’s not had the best twelve months. “You disappear, who do they turn to? Your boyfriend. Five times I was taken in for questioning. Five! No evidence. Couldn’t be, could there? And HER whispering round the estate, pointing the finger. Stuff through my letterbox – all cos of you.” And he’s happy to tell Rose that the Doctor’s gone, left her.

She goes out to the square with Mickey, and Jackie follows them. Then the Tardis appears, and they all end up inside. “Oh, just what I need. Don’t you dare make this place domestic!”

Jackie’s shocked by this revelation and goes back to the flat. The TV is asking people if they know anything, to call the hotline. So Jackie calls, “I’ve seen an alien and I know his name. He’s called the Doctor. It’s a box, a blue box. She called it a Tardis.” This trips some keyword alarms in a big way in Downing Street.

The Doctor has traced back the path of the spaceship as it came to Earth and discovered that it started – from somewhere on Earth.

In Downing Street, it looks like whatever Green and Blaine are, they’ve now taken control of General Asquith, and the discarded skin of Oliver Charles is left on the table.

The Doctor is looking at the news channels, as alien experts arrive at Downing Street. He recognises UNIT, and Mickey knows that he used to work for them. “Oh, yeah, don’t think I sat on my backside for 12 months, Doctor, I read up on you. Look deep enough on the Internet or in history books – there’s his name. Followed by a list of the dead.”

The Doctor doesn’t want to risk the Tardis again, so he wants to borrow Mickey’s car, but when they leave the Tardis, they’re surrounded by troops and helicopters. “Take me to your leader.”

They’re driven to Number Ten. The Doctor doesn’t seem to mind the attention.

Jackie is interviewed by a policeman. A rather large policeman. A large, farting policeman. He’s played by Steve Speirs, who was the very boring welshman in Extras.

While the Doctor is taken in to the expert briefing, Harriet Jones, who’s not allowed in, takes Rose to the Prime Minister’s office, and shows her the former skin of Oliver Charles. Rose starts looking for whatever technology must be being used to change skins, and when she opens a cupboard, the body of the Prime Minister falls out.

In the briefing, The Doctor explains that the spaceship came from Earth, and was a diversion from something that was discovered a few days ago. Then he realises he’s wrong. “If aliens fake an alien crash and an alien pilot, what do they get? Us. They get us. It’s not a diversion, it’s a trap. This is about us! Alien experts, the only people who know how to fight them – gathered together in one room.” Then, all the aliens start unzipping – Green and Asquith at the briefing, Margaret Blaine with Rose and Harriet, and the policeman with Jackie.

Whilst this three-way jeopardy is great, the length of time it take for them all to unzip and reveal themselves rather defuses the tension.

Green takes out a button. “Thank you all for wearing your ID cards. They’ll help to identify the bodies.” He presses the button, and the badges start electrocuting everybody. Marvel stole this for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Media Centre Description: The Doctor takes Rose home, but when a spaceship crash-lands in the Thames, London is closed off and the whole world goes on red alert. While the Doctor investigates the alien survivor, Rose discovers that her home is no longer a safe haven.

BBC Genome: BBC Three – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 19:45

The next recording starts with the end of Casualty @ Holby City. There’s trailers for Life on Mars and the Ideal Christmas Special.

Then, The French and Saunders Christmas Special. I like the joke at the start. Dawn’s trying to get into the living room, Jennifer says she doesn’t know who she is. “I’m a little fat thing with a massive ego. Desperate for approval. Mummy Mummy look at me.” Jennifer jumps up and opens the door, only to be disappointed. “Oh it’s you. I thought you were Ricky Gervais.”

The two background artists are on Eastenders.

The Graduate on stage. Now on its thousandth cast. With Wee Jimmy Krankie in the Dustin Hoffman part.

There’s a great sketch about three nuns visiting the Vatican, featuring Sally Phillips.

They do Boy George and George Michael.

But halfway through the sketch, it cuts to someone watching the recording on monitors.

“At this point in the recording, the producers decided to call in Dr Tania Byron.” “I’ve got just 40 minutes to turn this around. I’m deeply shocked by what I’m seeing, and in fact I’m going to go in, stop them and pull them out for a chat.”

I love any behind the scenes stuff. I like the way they all go out through the door in the set, then walk around in front of it.

Dr Byron thinks their behaviour, i.e. making fun of celebrities, is impacting their ability to attract celebrities on the show.

There’s a Mastermind sketch featuring John Humphreys.

Rufus Wainwright appears at the Beckenham Folk Festival, with some unwanted accompaniment.

The ladies at Peartree Farm have started the Peartree Farm Kiddie Crash Nursery.

Another money spinning idea is toddler lookylikeys. Here’s Cher.

Chicago. On stage, with its 1000th cast. Yes, that’s Wee Jimmy Krankie again.

Another sketch is interrupted by Dr Tania Byron, this one with Jackie Stallone and Bridget Nilsson. “When’s it going to stop?”

There’s a sketch based on Vera Drake, which I have never seen, although I know what it’s about. In the sketch, though, she performs abortions with milky tea. “Biscuit, dear?”

Finally, will Dawn and Jennifer be able to treat special guest Elton John with the respect he deserves?

He’s joined by “Kiki Dee” and, in a brilliant gag, “Our own, very Tiny Dancer, Billy Elliot” once again played by Wee Jimmy Krankie. (That’s Jennifer as Kike Dee, too.)

Media Centre Description: Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders return for a Christmas special with a host of send-ups and sketches. Vera Drake, Chicago and The Graduate all get the typical treatment, while in the ultimate makeover, extensive plastic surgery turns the girls into warring former in-laws Jackie Stallone and Bridget Nielsen. Dr Tanya Byron helps them learn to be nicer to their guests, and musician Rufus Wainwirght finds he has two enthusiastic backing singers who won’t take no for an answer.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 21:00

After this, there’s trailers for Chicago and Balderdash & Piffle.

The next recording is a bit of a puzzle. It’s Julian Fellowes Investigates a Most Mysterious MurderThe Case of the Earl of Erroll. Was I a Julian Fellowes fanboy at the time. I did watch Never Mind the Full Stops (no episodes remain in my collection) and I quite enjoyed Gosford Park, but this doesn’t really seem like the kind of programme I would really be interested in.

In this, Fellowes tells the story of a posh real-life murder, which happened among the British community in Kenya. So Julian gets to walk around the savannah in a fetching hat, pronouncing on the story.

The story is dramatised, with Fellowes appearing every few minutes to explain the plot. I say dramatised, but it’s mostly boring rich British people wandering around, having the odd affair, and going to posh parties, despite there being a war on. And the only actor I recognise is David Calder as a cuckolded husband. Every single person involved in this story is a terrible person.

Media Centre Description: During the second world war, the trial of a Baronet accused of murdering an Earl in colonial Kenya caused a sensation back in London. An infamous playboy, the Earl of Erroll was conducting a very public affair with Diana, the young bride of Sir Delves Broughton when he was shot dead in his car in January 1941. Julian Fellowes asks whether it was a crime of passion, or whether this high profile figure was a victim of political assassination.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 21:40

After this, there’s a trailer for Sweeney Todd starring Ray Winstone, and an ad for the BBCi Red Button.

Then the start of the news, leading with news that Vitamin D could cut your cancer risk, and heavy snow in Kent.

The next recording starts with trailers for Return of the GoodiesWho Do You Think You Are? and Balderdash & Piffle.

Then, another episode of The Unique Dave AllenPope.

Media Centre Description: Dave Allen presents his favourite stand-up routines and sketches on the subject of the Pope, as well as giving his own insights into the story of Adam and Eve.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 22:35

The final recording here is another edited one. It’s The American President. I did talk about it a bit when I looked at it on one of my tapes. And I agree with everything I said there.

It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, almost a pilot for The West Wing. It even starts with a walk and talk, as President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and his speechwriter Lewis Rothschild (Michael J Fox) discuss a speech where the president dumped an important paragraph.

The West Wing’s Nancy McNally, Anna Deveare Smith, plays his press secretary Robin McCall.

Martin Sheen plays his chief of staff, A.J. MacInerney.

David Paymer plays Leon Kodak, who runs the polling.

One the key bills that they’re trying to pass is a bill to reduce carbon emissions. The President thinks he can pass the bill with a 10% cut, but the lobby group the Global Defense Council want the bill to cut 20% emissions. John Mahoney runs the group.

Wendie Malick off of Dream On also works there. Mahoney wants to bring in a political strategist to help push their goals.

The President is a widower, with a young daughter.

The strategist hired by Mahoney arrives at the White House. She’s quite excited about being there. “Forgive me. This is my first time at the White House. I’m trying to savour the Capraesque quality” she says to the security guard. Malick says “He doesn’t know what Capraesque means.” “Yeah I do” says the security guard. “Frank Capra. Great American director. It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Sidney Ellen Wade of Virginia, knock em dead.”

Sidney Wade is played by Annette Bening. She’s there to talk to A.J. MacInerney about the climate bill. She’s making a strong case for the 20% reduction, and is dismissive of the president’s weaker bill. “The president’s dreaming, AJ. The president didn’t critically misjudged reality. If he honestly thinks that the environmental community is going to whistle a happy tune while rallying support around this pitifully lame mockery of environmental leadership just because he’s a nice guy and he’s done better than his predecessors, then your boss is the chief executive of Fantasyland.”

But the President has walked in behind her and heard all that. His response. “Let’s take him out back and beat the shit out of him.”

Later, the President asks to talk to Sidney privately somewhere “less intimidating”. So she’s shown into the Oval Office.

Richard Dreyfuss plays the republican candidate for President, Bob Rumson. When the President starts dating Sidney, he’s happy to use it to suggest that it reflects badly on the President’s character.

This film was released in 1995, so the White House computer system is running Windows 3.1.

I’m not saying that sometimes this film plays on political stereotypes, but Bob Rumson is plotting his character assassinations in a literal smoke-filled room, something that’s back in the news now that the idiot republicans have removed restrictions on smoking in offices at the US Capitol.

Another West Wing alum, Joshua Malina, (co-host of the excellent West Wing Weekly podcast) plays one of Sidney’s colleagues, David. I’d like to think his surname is Rosen, his character name in the political drama Scandal.

The main political thrust of the story is one that The West Wing would do more than once, the attempt to get the required number of votes for legislation. There’s two bills in play, the climate one that Sidney is lobbying for, and a Crime Prevention bill, which has been a bit neutered because they’re worried about the gun lobby. There’s a running count of how many votes are in play for each.

But when the President learns (from Sidney herself) that they could get enough votes to pass the crime bill if they shelved the climate legislation until after the election, and with the President’s approval rating dropping because Rumson has been smearing Sidney on TV incessantly, he decides to do the political thing, and try to get the crime bill passed, and the climate bill shelved. As a result, Sidney is fired, as the President discovers when she comes to the White House to collect her stuff. He asks “What do you think went on here today?” “I know exactly what went on here today, I got screwed. You saw the poll, you needed the crime bill, you couldn’t get it on your own, so I got screwed.”

The next morning, the President makes an impromptu appearance at the White House press room, and gives a big speech. It covers a lot of the issues of ‘character’ that Bob Rumson has been talking about for the past few weeks, and I mentioned this in my previous look at the film. He says (of Rumson) “You gather a group of middle-aged, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the president’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. You go on television. And you call her a whore.” And the moment he says that, he looks straight down the camera.

He then announces that he’s sending the climate bill to Congress, and the Crime bill is going to be rewritten so that it works, and gets assault weapons and handguns off the streets. This was the bit of the speech at the start of the film that the president dumped, so Lewis is obviously happy to hear that.

But what about Sidney? In the Oval Office, The President is trying to get a regular car organised so he can drive to her house and talk to her. But he doesn’t need to because she was listening to his. “I was in my car. It just kind of steered its way over here.” “Sidney, I didn’t send 455 to the floor to get you back.” “And I didn’t come back because you sent 455 to the floor.” Then they hug. It’s all about the hugging, for me. So I’m in tears. This is a great film.

Media Centre Description: Charming comedy about a widowed president who attempts to juggle his romantic life with his political commitments. President Andrew Shepherd finds his otherwise uneventful private life thrust into the public glare when he unexpectedly falls in love with a feisty environmental lobbyist. As it is election year, Shepherd’s new-found romance only adds to the problems faced by his tightly run campaign team.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Tuesday 27th December 2005 – 23:00

Incidentally, looking at the tapes which Babe and The American President were one throws up a couple of coincidences. The American President was a Christmas Day blog entry, which is not much of a coincidence, but the other film on that tape was the Sandra Bullock classic The Net – and on the end of the tape with Babe on it, there was also about half an hour of the same film. Not particularly mindblowing, but I thought I’d mention it, mainly because I really like The Net.


  1. The French & Saunders celebrity toddlers sketch was removed from subsequent showings, after complaints were upheld by the BBC governors.

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