Must we? All of us? This is the perfect storm, the tempest, the ultimate crisis for non-sport fans. But TV, with all its kaleidoscopic variety, was invented for just such an eventuality, surely? And together with some assistance from our faithful old friends, the tinnies in the fridge, the next few weeks might pass quite pleasantly, no? Fssssst. Sip. Hmmm. See? Happily, in terms of drinking and smoking, Patsy and Edina in Absolutely Fabulous (BBC1, Monday) seemed to be in agreement about what we in the East End refer to as ‘The Limpics’.
For those of us who have only ever seen this series intermittently, two things remain constant: any gags that involve famous people and fashion are thunderously unfunny (that is particularly true in this Limpic special, where Stella McCartney and Kelly Holmes are there for Jennifer Saunders’s Edina to fall over in front of). But the core relationship between Saunders and Joanna Lumley is ever more a work of hooting comic brilliance. Jonathan Swift would have loved the scene involving the pair of them trying to titivate themselves in Edina’s bedroom with giant magnifying glasses and mirrors and Venetian masque lipstick-shapers. ‘Is this a pore? Or a nostril?’ cries Edina. Later, Lumley’s Patsy is nearly suffocated by an absurdly restrictive control body. ‘I can’t feel her pulse!’ wails Edina’s daughter Saffy. Edina shudders at the vulgar solecism. ‘Oh, darling,’ she chides, ‘Pats doesn’t have a pulse.’ There have been suggestions elsewhere that this was the final episode. Surely not? Most sitcoms revolve around characters who cannot escape from one another, from Steptoe onwards. Yet Saunders has crafted a comedy about two lifelong friends who, increasingly adrift from the world, would never dream of parting. They would have no one else to get helplessly, abusively, drunk with. Sheridan would have loved them too.
And talking of which: Fssssst. Sip. Aaaah. More getting-into-the-Limpic spirit with Bert and Dickie (BBC1,Wednesday) which is about, well, Bert Bushnell (played by Matt Smith) and Dickie Burnell (Sam Hoare). They were the oarsmen, one posh, one not, who won gold in the 1948 Limpics. The Henley races were recreated with back-straining verve. As indeed were the austerity dishes of Spam and prized Barnsley chops. But writer William Ivory’s subtler sub-theme of fathers and sons unable to express their deep pride and love for one another was rather movingly handled. And Matt Smith is an interesting actor — all geometric gawkiness and fixed-gaze spikiness. It’s a quirky quality that means pretty much that he always has to be the leading man, for in any ensemble piece, he would simply snaffle all the attention anyway. This was one of those scripts where a character (in this case, Geoffrey Palmer) makes to leave a room, gets to the door, pauses, then slowly turns, and delivers a salient remark to another character who has been waiting silently for it. Have you ever tried this in real life? I have. Before I can even open my mouth, the other person says, ‘Bye, then.’
Elsewhere, BBC4 unveiled A History of Art in Three Colours (Wednesday). The first episode was about gold, an accidental Limpic reminder. Professor James Fox flitted from Cairo to Florence to Dresden, in a dark jacket and tie, like an academic 007, to tell us of pharaohs and goldsmiths and electroplating; of 3,000-year-old sun-chariot sculptures fashioned from gold, to Gustav Klimt’s desire to restore gold’s sacred nature. The programme was, of course, beautiful to watch but the canvas was a little too broad — more a sequence of encyclopedia sidebars than an in-depth study. The real genius of BBC4 lies in its hyper-focused social micro-histories. I want them to produce The Intimate History of the Provincial Bus Station. Nor am I joking. Suicide-inducing architecture; lovers parting in economy-priced heartbreak. If needs be, I’ll make it myself.
And to the opening night itself. Sitting with some chutzpah directly opposite Danny Boyle’s £27 million Limpic epic, there is Snowdonia: A Year in the Wild (BBC2, Friday). For the most furious of Limpic refuseniks, here is sanctuary. Sheep. Ravens. Dark silent mountains. Poets. Climbers. Otters. Echoes. Exquisitely filmed, with commendably un-naff musical scoring (i.e., not those endless gentle guitar pluckings). Hermione Norris narrates in the nougat tones of the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny, but delivers Robert Macfarlane-y sentiments concerning landscape, memory, history, heritage, tradition and loss. Fsssst. Glug. Hmmm. Perfect. Oh! But wait! Sheep! Shepherds! Pastures green! If we turn over to BBC1, they are all there on Danny Boyle’s Limpic stage! So do you see? Boyle could simply project Snowdonia on a screen and save billions! Fssssst! Fssssst! Gluuuuug. Grrrr.