Reece Shearshmith as DJ Mike King image credit BBC

 DJ Mike King
image credit BBC

Some years ago when I watched the amazing League of Gentlemen for the first time, there was a minor recurring character on the show called Mike King who happened to be a hospital DJ. We see him playing song dedications for patients such as ‘Bye Bye, Baby’ for a teenage girl having a termination and blackmailing a staff doctor to get him to attach an arm on his limb-challenged friend. If you know anything about LOG and their imaginary and darkly absurd world of Royston Vasey, you might have thought as I did – a DJ in a hospital is just something they made up.

I forgot all about it until recently when I started watching the geriatric Scottish sitcom, Still Game. One episode in particular from series four called ‘Wireless‘ was all about the main characters, Jack (Ford Kiernan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill),  filling in as hospital DJs so their mate Tam could take a holiday.

Still Game's Jack and Victor fill in as hospital DJs  image credit BBC Scotland

image credit BBC Scotland


Seeing this led me to believe that radio stations in UK hospitals might be an actual thing so I decided to investigate a bit further. First I found Ivan Brackenbury, aka comedian and radio personality Tom Binns. Though Ivan is a  comic character created by Binns, the clip does a good job explaining the purpose of these primarily volunteer hospital staff.


I also learned that Karl Pilkington, Philip Glenister and several members of the Kaiser Chiefs got their start in entertainment through hospital radio stations. Even fictional broadcaster Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) admits to having done a three year stint as a hospital radio disc jockey…


My most surprising find was that in 1994 there was an entire TV drama set around a hospital radio station in a Scottish psychiatric hospital. Takin’ Over the Asylum starred Ken Stott as Eddie, the new DJ at St. Jude’s long- deserted radio station, and a very young David Tennant as a bi-polar patient named Campbell who helps Eddie out on air.


I can see how an internal radio station could help build a sense of community on the wards and cheer or comfort patients and their families. If anyone is aware of an American hospital that does this, I’d be interested to know. Otherwise I’ll add this to my list of surprising and delightful things that the British do differently to us.

This week’s Five for Friday list concerns the return of the beloved comedy/drama Doc Martin. The seventh (and reportedly final) series is currently airing in the UK on ITV and will soon be available in the US. The streaming service Acorn TV will premiere episodes one and two on Monday, October 5 with a new installment added every Monday through November 16. I’ve had an advance look and here’s five reasons why I think it’s worth coming back to Portwenn one more time.

1.The Doc starts therapy

Martin meets with therapist Dr. Timoney (Emily Bevan) image credit Buffalo Pictures

Martin meets with his new therapist 
image credit Buffalo Pictures

As you may recall, at the end if series six, a physically and emotionally battered Louisa (Caroline Catz) decided she needed time away to think about Martin and their marriage.  She packed up herself and baby James and headed to Spain to stay with her mother. Upon leaving Louisa strongly hinted that, in order for their relationship to progress, it might be a good thing for Martin to start seeing a therapist to deal with his myriad problems.

In series seven, Martin takes this request to heart and with a recommendation from his Aunt Ruth (Eileen Atkins) seeks out a therapist, Dr. Rachel Timoney (Emily Bevan). Louisa is pleasantly surprised when she learns of Martin’s compliance with her wishes. That is until she is summoned into a meeting with Dr. Timoney who seems to suggest that Martin is not the only one with issues.


2. The opening of Portwenn Fishing Holidays

Al Large (Joe Absolom) with his first unfortunate B&B guest image credit Buffalo Pictures

Al Large (Joe Absolom) with his first unfortunate B&B guest played by Gavin and Stacey’s Melanie Walters
image credit Buffalo Pictures

Also at the end of the last series, Al Large (Joe Absolom) convinced Ruth Ellingham to go into business with him. He planned to turn the farmhouse she inherited from her sister Joan into a bed and breakfast and the property into a retreat for fresh and seawater fishing which he would manage as well.

After a series of frustrating medical delays with the builders he hired, Al is now ready to welcome his first paying customers, the Merchants. Despite his best efforts, Al can’t catch a break and Mrs. Merchant seems to bear the brunt of every misfortune visited upon the enterprise of Portwenn Fishing Holidays.

3. Lots of Martin’s adorable pal, Buddy

Buddy and Doc image credit Neil Genower

Buddy and Doc
image credit Neil Genower and ITV

From the very beginning, we have witnessed the village dogs’ utter and inexplicable adoration for the Doc regardless of his obvious animosity towards them. This pattern continues in series seven with Martin reaching such a level of frustration that he resolves to take care of the Buddy problem for good. As you know, Martin Clunes, the actor who plays Dr. Ellingham, is a renowned lover of canines so I don’t think any harm will come to our little terrier friend.


4. Guest stars

Martin reunites with former co-star Caroline Quentin image credit Neil Genower and ITV

Martin reunites with former co-star Caroline Quentin
image credit Neil Genower and ITV

Besides the aforementioned Melanie Walters who played Stacey’s mum Gwen in Gavin and Stacey, there are a few other actors making guest appearances this series that you’re sure to recognize. Comedy character actress Rosie Cavaliero (Jam and Jerusalem, Spy, Hunderby and A Young Doctor’s Notebook) plays the new radio DJ in Portwenn. Though I haven’t seen the episode yet, Sigourney Weaver has been confirmed as a guest star this season as well. But I was most pleased to see Martin Clunes reunited with his former girlfriend from Men Behaving Badly, Caroline Quentin. There are some great antagonistic scenes between Dr. Ellingham and Quentin’s strong-willed holistic vet, Angela Sim.


5. Lots of Martin being rude

Just in case you were concerned that Martin’s exploits into therapy would render him completely unrecognizable, emotionally speaking, never fear! There’s still plenty of abrupt, blunt and surly Dr. Ellingham to go around.

Trollied with Miriam Margoyles image credit Sky 1

Trollied with Miriam Margoyles as a checkout operator
image credit Sky 1

I realize I haven’t talked about things I’ve learned about the UK by watching British TV much lately which, of course, was the whole premise of this blog in the first place. Considering I’ve been doing this for over five years now, it’s inevitable that I would encounter fewer new lessons. Nevertheless I’ve resolved to pay more attention so that I may share these small yet interesting tidbits with you. Because it’s the little things that make up a culture, after all.

This time around I wanted to shine a light on grocery store cashiers. In the US, cashiers stand at their registers while in the UK checkout girls (or guys?) sit at their tills.


British customers empty out their trolleys and gather up their shopping after the lot has been has scanned.  In the US, it’s far more likely the cashier (or a teenage employee hired specifically to put your purchases in bags) will take care of this part of the transaction. They may even load up your cart for you.


In both countries however, you’re bound to encounter an employee who is new to the job and/or not quite up to speed.


I should mention the Aldi caveat. In my American grocery experience, this is the only store I’ve visited where the cashiers sit and the customers pack up their own shopping. Bear in mind Aldi’s is a German company so it makes sense they would emulate the European model.

Why do we Americans force our cashiers to stand for hours on end when they can do their job sitting just as well? I have several theories –

Perhaps it’s our Puritan work ethic.

We recognize swollen feet and aching knees as a sign of a job well done. (As a sufferer of lower back pain, I applaud the more humane treatment of checkout staff by UK grocery retailers.)

If you’re standing, the customer will get the impression they are receiving superior customer service.

Grocery employees in the UK are better unionized.

I really don’t know, but I’m interested in your take, be you British, American or other.

image credit BBC Matt Squire

image credit BBC Matt Squire


This week I finally gave in to my curiosity and binge-watched the current BBC Two romantic comedy, Boy Meets Girl. I’d noticed this series mentioned in the Radio Times and on The British Comedy Guide, but was concerned about how a sitcom centered around a transgender woman and her blossoming romance would be handled. Currently in the US, programs chronicling the lives of transgender people are popping up all over reality TV and I was probably expecting a similar treatment in this show.

Well, I needn’t have worried because Boy Meets Girl is genuinely warm and witty. It’s a mainstream rom-com about the highs and lows inherent in a new relationship. You know, those first throes of infatuation, the constant smiling, butterflies  in the stomach and the wonder of the unknown balanced against meddling relatives, judgements by friends and strangers, the pressure of impressing a new love and the terror of the unknown.

Basically, Leo (Harry Hepple) is experiencing a rough patch. He’s been sacked for being too honest, his family is a bit of a handful and even blind dates avoid him probably due in part to his brother James’ (Jonny Dixon) misguided advice. That is until he encounters Judy (Rebecca Root) delivering a cake to the pub where he happens to be drinking alone. They strike up a conversation and hit it off very well despite their obvious age difference.

Both are smitten and agree to embark on a proper first date. Judy wastes no time in laying out the situation.


And this is why Judy is such a great character. She approaches her life with honesty and a healthy sense of humor. You immediately empathize with her vulnerability and the loneliness being born in the wrong body has imposed on her life. Fortunately she has a very loving mother, Peggy (Janine Duvitski) who, despite her eccentricities or perhaps because of them, is Judy’s biggest supporter.


In fact, most of the characters in this series are tolerant and likable as you just saw with Leo’s dad Tony (Nigel Betts) in the clip above. Leo and Judy’s siblings Jackie (Lizzie Roper) and especially James are starting to grow on me. It’s Leo’s mum Pam (Denise Welch) who I’m reserving judgment on. She badgers her husband and berates her unemployed sons, all in the name of love, but Pam’s motherly concern has led her down the wrong path when it comes to Leo’s new lady love.


I need to see how Pam reacts when the truth about Judy is finally revealed to make my mind up about this domineering matriarch.

I like the Newcastle setting and dialect (though I’m embarrassed to admit at first listen I thought Leo’s family was Welsh).  I have caught myself wondering how these families survive economically when it appears that Judy’s mother’s home-based cake baking business is her family’s main source of income. And while they allude to Tony having a job, we only ever see Pam working away at the hair salon. Neither of their sons, it has been established, are gainfully employed at the moment but they sure seem to go out a lot. Nitpicky, perhaps, but these are the kind of things I think about…

There is no doubt that without the casting of Rebecca Root, a transgender woman, this series would lack integrity. I was afraid this sitcom would be a scripted version of I Am Cait or I Am Jazz, just two of the transgender reality shows I alluded to earlier. However, it is Hepple and Root’s great chemistry that give it such heart. Boy Meets Girl is a sentimental romantic comedy, not a reality fix for inquiring minds.


image credit BBC

image credit BBC

The 18th series of The Graham Norton Show will be premiering tonight on BBC One in the UK and on October 3rd on BBC America. Alas this is one of the few programs I will miss now that I have jettisoned the repetitive and often irrelevant channel from my life. (Their blog is good, though!)

So in observance of the return of this perennial favorite, I am featuring five of the most memorable moments I can recall from past shows…

David Tennant’s socks: What I enjoy about this clip is the boyish enthusiasm and energy a grown man can summon for such a uncomplicated dilemma. Sometimes simple pleasures are the best, even for a Time Lord.



Miriam Margolyes: Anytime this woman appears on Graham’s couch, I know we’re in for some bawdy stories. The reactions of the the other guests are almost as funny as the anecdotes themselves.

I particularity liked her appearance with Will.i.am as they seemed to warm up to one another rather nicely especially after the shock value of her hilariously indiscreet tales had worn off a bit.


Ghosting: Australian radio personalities Hamish and Andy introduced viewers to the world of competitive  ghosting. I found this bit so funny, I started following them on Twitter. Unfortunately I never saw anything quite so amusing from them again…


Accent Masterclass: Jimmy Carr serves as a dialect coach for Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. I’m sure they’ll fit right in on the Geordie Shore now!


Best Red Chair Moment:I realize I’ve featured this clip at least two or three times on this blog, but for me it’s the perfect combination of entertaining account, spot on delivery and celebrity reaction to the storyteller. If there was a Red Chair Hall of Fame, Aileen from Derry would most certainly be in it!


In recent years I’ve bemoaned the excess of Hollywood A-listers booked on the show and the amount of time Graham spends fawning over Meryl Streep and the like. That being said I still think the format and the tone of Norton’s program is far more entertaining than most chat shows here in the States. Here’s hoping for a new series of transatlantic cooperation and communal laughs from that very loud couch!

Jack and Victor are Still Game image credit BBC

Jack and Victor are Still Game
image credit BBC


After watching a half dozen episodes of this very amusing Scottish sitcom, I find it difficult to believe I had never heard of Still Game before. In fact, it took the recommendation of a stranger I ran into at work to discover its existence. (We started with an IT Crowd joke, one thing led to another, and ended with him finally letting me in on this little gem currently available on Netflix.)

Long-time friends Jack Jarvis (Ford Kiernan) and Victor McDade (Greg Hemphill) are widowers, pensioners and neighbors who live in a fictional district of Glasgow called Craiglang. They like a pint at their local, the Clansman; a free bus ride once in awhile; and they’re happy to help out a friend – as long as it doesn’t interfere with their drinking schedule.


Despite the fact that most of the actors in this series are actually decades younger than the characters they play, they do a great job addressing the issues of aging in society today. They tackle loneliness, abandonment, the slow but steady decline of the body and the inevitability of death. Still Game treats these topics at once with sensitivity and humor. For example, an elderly hospital patient wants to hear the song ‘Rose-Marie’ by Nelson Eddy before he passes so Jack, Victor and their friend Wilson do their best to fulfill his final request. As the first strains of the song begin, the man dies peacefully with his wife by his side and a smile on his face. A few seconds later, his newly minted widow, Agnes, bursts into the radio booth, furious with them that her husband’s last thoughts were of his mistress, Rose-Marie.

To be honest I haven’t watched many Scottish series mainly because the various Scots accents are the most difficult for me to decipher. Thank goodness US Netflix has subtitles! Though the bad news is that the streaming service only has series four and five available at this time. All the other episodes appear to be on YouTube sans closed captioning of course, but you can get the gist if you listen carefully. A helpful tip for American ears, ‘hoose” is “house” and “deed” is actually “dead”.

I’m a big dialect enthusiast so I always enjoy increasing my UK vocab. Still Game has taught me “Jeez-o”, “Och!” and probably the most oft used word in the whole show “Pish” (to urinate and also a similar meaning to the more English phrase “taking the piss”).

Most of the regular cast was unknown to me, but I have recognized a few of the guest stars so far; Robbie Coltrane as the Dial a Bus driver and Billy Boyd from Lord of the Rings‘ fame as a bearded man who encounters Jack and Victor in the train station. Jack and Victor’s friends include Isa (Jane McCarry) the town gossip, her employer Navid (Sanjeev Kohli) the owner of the corner news agents shop, Tam  (Mark Cox) the biggest cheapskate you’ll ever meet and the always obliging but down on his luck Winston (Paul Riley). This  quirky band of OAP’s will certainly make you chuckle, but they’ll also make you care about them which in turn makes the funny moments more sincere.

I was sad to learn that Still Game ended in 2007 and due to a falling out between the show’s stars and creators, Kiernan and Hemphill, the series will probably never be resurrected. Ah well, six series is a very good run for any series. If you never have, I hope you’ll pay a visit to these mischievous granddads who are just trying to enjoy the life they have left. If you’re from the UK and are familiar with the show, let me know how it’s regarded there.

As one who has dallied amongst the world of Gogglebox before, the start of a new series has strengthened my resolve to watch an entire series if I can. For those who aren’t familiar with the UK reality hit, Gogglebox simply films viewers’ reactions while they watch popular TV shows in their living rooms. For example in the first episode of the new series, the following were observations made by some of the Gogglebox families:

  • Ant and Dec are on equal footing with Stephen Fry as national treasures.
  • All the families (or a least representatives within each family) were in favor of helping the Syrian refugees and were embarrassed that it took so long for PM David Cameron to act.
  • Most were not fooled by the X Factor stunt of singer Bupsi switching from a laid back version of ‘All My Loving’ to a raunchy, bluesy number in Tina Turner style and treating Simon Cowell to a lap dance in the process.
  • The Great British Bake-Off continues to be popular as well as the consumption of vol-a-vents.

While the concept may sound simple and a little bit passive, it’s the people who invite us into their homes that make the show compelling. It’s a diverse group of families and friends with a wide range of personalities and unique chemistry between them. Here are five of my favorite combos who make Gogglebox must-see telly.

Sandy and Sandra 

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

Sandy Channer and Sandra Martin hail from Brixton and are Gogglebox veterans from the very first series. Best friends for forty years, the two women are larger than life and very animated to say the least. Neither are afraid to accessorize nor speak their minds. Their joie de vivre is contagious making this duo a delight to watch particularly when they get surprised or excited about what they’re watching.


Stephen and Chris

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media and Channel 4

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media and Channel 4

Christopher Steed and Stephen Webb are hairdressers from Brighton. They too have been part of Gogglebox from the beginning. Reportedly they were a couple at the start and have since broken up, but obviously remain good mates. Their trademark viewing style is sort of snarky, but they often say the things I’m thinking so that’s nice to feel that we are partners in cynicism. They are also known to take the piss out of one another, but that’s what friends do. However,when the subject matter calls for it, they can be as serious and touched by tragedy as any other Goggleboxer.


June and Leon

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media and Channel 4

Another couple who’ve invited Gogglebox viewers into their home since day one is June and Leon Bernicoff, retired teachers from Liverpool. Viewers like this pair as much for their bickering as they do for their comments on the TV offerings of the day. They don’t seem too keen on people who are famous just for being on the telly which might be sort of ironic. But it’s the underlying affection behind Leon’s flirtatiously rude banter and June’s patient eye-rolling and diet monitor duties that endears us to this couple who’ve endured for over five decades.


The Siddiquis

credit image Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

credit image Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

Sid Siddiquis and his sons Umar and Baasit live in Derby and have charmed us with their insightful remarks and engaging family anecdotes for all five series so far. The trio (and sometimes a third son, Raza) are not as audacious as some of their Gogglebox counterparts, but this makes a for a good balance on the show. They can intelligently discuss some of the more sober topics they watch on the news or in documentaries but the low key humor between them is always natural and never mean spirited.


The Moffats

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

image credit Studio Lambert, All3Media, Channel 4

Mum Betty, daughter Scarlett and dad Mark haven’t been around the Gogglebox quite as long (only since series three) but these Northerners from County Durham are perfectly amusing. Scarlett definitely takes the lead when it comes to entertaining quips and observations but her parents get in there with some good witticisms too. I think what resonates about this family for me is they remind me of of the pure pleasure I get from watching TV with my own grown children.

Do you have a favorite Gogglebox clan? And more significantly, which grouping reminds you most of your family or pals?



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