Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

As you probably know the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are officially underway. My family watched the opening ceremonies Friday night and I have to say I found the event a let down compared to the 2012 London spectacle. I mean Gisele Buchchen strutting across the stadium for what seemed like an eternity…or Her Majesty and James Bond parachuting into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium. It’s like they say, the Brits do pomp and pageantry extremely well.

A performer playing the role of Britain's Queen Elizabeth parachutes from a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT)

image credit REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch


After all the samba dancing and selfie-sticks, the athletes are presumably back to focusing on their respective competitions. Years of training will come down to seconds in the pool or on the track; the scrutiny of judges regarding mechanics and style; or on which team has the better day on the court or pitch.

It occurs to me that, as in most things in life, British comedy offers important lessons that can apply to many aspects of human endeavor. Vital truths lie beyond the laughs and these can benefit anyone striving to excel in sport.

For example, A Bit of Fry and Laurie demonstrate how important it is to start your training with an experienced and reputable coach.


One of the major roadblocks to athletic excellence is fear as Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) so adeptly illustrates.


The late, great Victoria Wood (it still hurts my heart to say that) bears witness to the absolute necessity for an athlete to have a dedicated and reliable support system.


In this sketch Big Train‘s Simon Pegg and Kevin Eldon showcase how working tirelessly to get the little things right can pay big dividends in the end.


And finally, don’t despair if your athletic passion isn’t even on the list of sports recognized by the IOC yet. The cast of Not the Nine O’ Clock News encourages you to always keep in fighting form in anticipation of the day when you get to the opportunity to achieve your Olympic dream.


Best of luck (and laughter) to all the athletes competing in Rio!


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"The Library" is a planet sized book repository. Or is it? image credit BBC

“The Library” is a planet sized book repository. Or is it?
image credit BBC


As you probably already know, I work in a public library. I’ve talked about British related programs I’ve organized like the Time Lord Trivia Tournament, our British Car Day and, of course, the monthly gatherings of my support group for expats and lovers of British culture, Anglophiles United.

But when most people think of libraries, these fun, out-of-the-box activities are not what come to mind. They think of implacable librarians, drab in appearance and stern in attitude; scholarly and musty volumes, as dry in content as their fragile pages; and a vault-like atmosphere that is quiet as a tomb.

What follows are some British telly clips about libraries. I really had an enjoyable time searching for them. Some support the stereotypes above and others paint a more modern or friendly picture of libraries today.


Psychoville – Jeremy Goode (obsessive guardian of library material)


Later in this story, Jeremy actually shows up at the woman’s house hoping to recover her delinquent book. Real library staffers don’t actually fixate on things like this. People lose stuff all the time. We do send them to collections though if they misplace too many of the precious things of library and neglect to pay up of their own accord.


Mr. Bean – clumsy patron


Where I work, we don’t have such ancient and rare tomes and no gloves are required to touch anything on our shelves. That being said, we do unfortunately get items back in our book drop in less than pristine condition: food and beverage splatters, crayon scribbles, pages torn out and, yes, even sand under the plastic dust jacket of the book of the latest copy of ‘Girl on the Train’ or ‘Game of Thrones’.


Derek (and Kevin) – patrons with specific interests and tastes


We do get individuals like Derek who want to take out the same book over and over again. They are usually children, but Derek has a child-like quality about him. On the other end of the spectrum, we get blokes like Kevin in as well, but they are more likely to be using our computers to find  “adult images” than magazines.


The Old Guys – A mature, attractive librarian


We’re not all middle aged ladies in cardigans with glasses hanging on a chain around our necks.  In fact, harmless flirting has been known to happen across the circulation and reference desks. I work with women (and men) of various ages, fashion sense and style and temperaments. Some are enthusiastic and energetic while others are more reserved and timid. And believe it or not, there are some quite confident and ambitious librarians as well, rather like Barbara (Cherie Lunghi) the new librarian in the clip above.


Doc Martin – play group


Libraries don’t have to be deadly silent places, particularly in the children’s areas of the building. Young patrons are encouraged to sing, move and create. My library has a wide range of kids’ programming including infants and toddlers’ lap sit story times. You typically see mums with their little ones at events like this, but kudos to Dr. Ellingham for even showing up at a baby sing-a-long/play group.


Individual libraries, even within the same general area, can have very different amenities, rules and staffers. But universally, they are places for people who love books, stories, and learning. Besides being a full-time telly watcher, there’s no other job I’d rather have.

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Valco butchers Andy and Kieran are meat professionals image credit Roughcut TV

Valco butchers Andy and Kieran are meat professionals
image credit Roughcut TV


No, I’m not referring to the infamous meat scandal of 2013 which, in case you’re not aware, had something to do with a different variety of mammal flesh being found in British grocery stores’ frozen beef burgers and prepared meals.


Rather, the mystery meat to which I’m referring is mince. It may seem a trivial thing to focus on, but in the course of watching British telly recently I encountered the term several times.  Are they talking about the stuff they put in the pies at Christmas time, I wondered? That’s not even got actual meat in it anymore as far as I know. From the examples I saw, whatever mince may be it’s obviously an important ingredient used to impress people.

On the new ’70’s era sitcom The Kennedys, for example, mother Brenda (Katherine Parkinson) wants to put on the first ever dinner party in their housing estate. She charges her husband Tony (Dan Skinner) with preparing a dish called lasagna that she has a found a recipe for in a magazine. She tells him it calls for pasta (not in a tin) and, you guessed it,  “Mince. You know mince. You know it.” No, Brenda, sorry I don’t!

Dinner party guests look on at the exotic lasagna with mince image credit BBC

Dinner party guests look on at the exotic lasagna with mince
image credit BBC


The second time I came across mince was in an episode of Man Down. Daniel (Greg Davies) is trying to win back his girlfriend Naomi (Deirdre Mullins) and this is his plan which requires the assistance of his friends Brian (Mike Woniak) and Jo (Roisin Conaty). “You follow me to Nobby’s tomorrow, we drop the car off, we go back into town, I pick up some meat, you drive me back to Nobby’s, I drive my car back home, I cook us a meal, I put on some soft music, Naomi comes round, she likes the mince, next thing she knows, she’s married to me.”

Want to know how it all turned out? Sorry for the poor quality video…


Where I’m from we call this hamburger, ground beef (or pork or whatever). It’s a versatile source of protein to be sure.  Mince, however, sounds more delicate and I have to wonder if many of the fast food chains that have flourished here would have done so well if they were making their famous burgers from something called mince.


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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.

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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.

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When I was in London as a student in the mid-80’s I didn’t read newspapers much. I would sometimes pop into the newsagents near my university for some chocolate and a International Herald Tribune. I’m not sure why; I think another American student in my hostel recommended it as a good way to catch up on events at home.  It doesn’t really matter since the IHT like so many other papers was bought out is now published as the International New York Times.

I also bought one copy of the tabloid, The Sun – mainly because I wanted physical proof that British papers actually had topless women in them. The edition I bought featured Samantha Fox as the Page Three girl, if memory serves. Also they seemed fond of using the term “shock horror” with abandon.

*If I understand correctly, the practice of publishing topless photos in The Sun has pretty much been halted since earlier this year.

Now if I’d read the serious British broadsheets of the time I’m sure I would have discovered that The Guardian or The Independent (once it came along in 1986) had few nice things to say about Maggie Thatcher while The Times or Daily Telegraph might have be singing her praises. Please see the graphic below for the spectrum of political and social leanings among UK newspapers.

Orientation of UK Newspapers image credit The Atlantic

Orientation of UK Newspapers
image credit The Atlantic


Graphs are all well and good, but as you know, I prefer my British culture lessons in telly form. There have been more times than I can count when I’ve picked up on a passing comment about which newspaper a character reads. It serves as a subtle, yet very distinct, clue about that person’s political stance, education or even sophistication.

For example, here’s a rather succinct run down from Yes Prime Minister identifying each paper’s target readership.


And it’s not just a matter of political affiliation. Comedian Russell Howard has a humorous method for differentiating the unique journalistic styles of print media outlets in Great Britain today.


Finally here’s a song about The Daily Mail, the preferred news source of  Last Tango in Halifax’s Celia Dawson-Buttershaw …seeing as she’s so broad-minded and all.


These days my newspaper consumption is relegated almost exclusively to on-line versions. And even though I mostly read entertainment-related pieces (reviews and the like) you can often sense how conservative or liberal the paper is by it’s reaction to socially significant issues presented in a drama or comedy.

For news and general tone, I’d probably identify myself as a Guardian reader so I suppose that says something about me. I’m just not exactly sure what that message is. Feel free to tell me or share your print news source of choice in the comments.

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I’ve never been much of a joiner, truth be told. I didn’t pledge a sorority in college, nor did I join a Women’s Circle at church or a service organization like the Rotary Club. I got wrangled into a local mother’s group only because the mom of one of my daughter’s very best friends invited me and I couldn’t think of an excuse not to. And I was the vice-president of the PTA for one year when my kids were in elementary school – I was there all the time so I figured why not dive into the deep end. Alas my political aspirations were non-existent so I didn’t return for a second term.

Recently I found a WWII-era drama series called Home Fires that made me start to wonder if I would ever consider joining one of the most enduring and established women’s clubs in the UK. In it we become acquainted with the residents of a rural Cheshire village, and in particular, the members of its Women’s Institute group. The chapter is threatened with closure by its own president due to the impending war. Nonetheless, another faction of determined ladies within the group keep the chapter going through a coup of sorts in order to provide vital services and leadership to the village.

The Great Paxford WI Chapter big wigs  image credit ITV Studios

The Great Paxford WI Chapter big wigs
image credit ITV Studios


For those who think they aren’t familiar with the WI, if you’ve seen the 2003 film Calendar Girls, you have been exposed. You know, that movie where Helen Mirren and her middle-aged friends got their kit off in order to raise money to buy a memorial gift for a local hospital.


Awkward posing among and around baked goods, flower arrangements and cider presses aside, what you may not remember is the way the ladies ridiculed and disagreed with the dated and less than enlightening way their chapter’s leader was running things. In fact, Mirren and company had to plead their case to the national congress of the WI when their president Marie  (Geraldine James) initially refused to sanction their slightly titillating calendar.

Another source of cultural context for me regarding the Women’s Institute was a series called Jam and Jerusalem. Note that the series title was changed to the name of the village, Clatterford, for its US DVD release. I can only think that distributors figured since Americans aren’t familiar with the WI they wouldn’t understand the J&J reference and assume it was some sort of religious cooking program? I’ll touch on the sources of the alliterative title shortly.

Although the show’s creators, Jennifer Saunders and Abigail Wilson, called their organization the Women’s Guild, it was obviously a thinly veiled alias for the WI. This series depicted a newly widowed Sal Vine (Sue Johnston) forced into retirement by her own son and looking for something to fill her days. Self-proclaimed Guild chairwoman Eileen Pike (Maggie Steed) pounces on the opportunity to recruit Sal as a new member. So along with her best friend Tippi (Pauline McLynn), Sal  agrees to give it a go, but with no serious intentions of sticking with it because, in her view, the club is for lonely old ladies or women of leisure.

The ladies of Clatterford participate in a wide variety of activities; from cake baking and flower arranging to net ball tournaments , rambling  and charity fashion shows. Always under the watchful eye and rigorous planning of Eileen, no doubt.


So that was my impression. The WI was a social club for wealthy country ladies with time on their hands. Its main goal was the preservation of homemaking and hostessing skills. Like a roomful of Martha Stewarts, but with less superior attitudes.

However after watching Home Fires, I learned a bit more about the origins and on-going purpose of the WI. According to their own website, “The Women’s Institute Movement in Britain started in 1915. During the First World War it was formed to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food to help to increase the supply of food to the war-torn nation. Once the war was over the newly formed WIs began to concentrate on planning programmes of activities to suit their members. This new organisation attracted members from the Lady of the Manor, to her housemaid and cook; from the local shop keeper to the wife of the farm labourer: working together in the WI helped to break down the social barriers between countrywomen who had rarely met in the past.”

Sure there were still tensions and even rivalries among certain members with leadership aspirations, but during WWII, the Women’s Institute was committed to the Home Front effort. Among their many undertakings, members sheltered evacuees, wrote to “friendless” soldiers and, probably their most remembered accomplishment, preserved over 5000 tons of fruit into jam to boost the domestic food supply.

The Women’s Institute is currently celebrating its centenary year. Members recently held their annual meeting at the Royal Albert Hall where the traditional hymn “Jerusalem” was sung.  Adopted by many during the women’s suffrage movement, members of the WI felt the song was in accordance with their goals for women as well.

Apparently the Queen doesn’t sing in public or perhaps she forgot the words.

So the question is, would I join the WI if I had the opportunity? I’m not that into crafts or cooking. I might get annoyed with political in-fighting and I’d definitely roll my eyes at strict adherence to meeting rules and procedures. However, if you could guarantee me a diverse and supportive group of friends like this, I’d be more than happy to sign up.

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Peter Kay's Car Share image credit BBC and Goodnight Vienna Productions

Peter Kay’s Car Share
image credit BBC and Goodnight Vienna Productions

Car sharing (or carpooling as we’re more likely to say in the States) is not something with which I’ve had a great deal of experience. I’ve never lived or worked in an area where rush hour traffic is a real thing so the practice isn’t actively discussed or encouraged.

A few of my library coworkers live nearby and one day a week our schedules align so that we can ride together. If it works out that is, meaning none of us have committee meetings at other branches, doctor’s appointments after work or any other number of events that could prevent the carpool from being convenient. When it works, we have a lovely time chatting and it’s a nice change from my usual drive time companion, NPR. But no one’s saving a lot of money on gas (or if you prefer, petrol) nor are we impacting anyone’s carbon footprint in any discernible way.

However, if my commute included congestion charges or my workplace offered significant incentives for riding with colleagues, I would definitely want Peter Kay as my car share comrade.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kay, he is a comedian, actor and writer from the Greater Manchester area. He’s famous for his phenomenally successful stand-up tours which feature spot on observational humor. He is also known for the TV sitcoms Phoenix Nights about a Northern working mans club and its spin-off of sorts, Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere. 

His newest triumph is Peter Kay’s Car Share and the concept is simplistically brilliant – a thirty minute sitcom wherein two people share the ride to work; roughly fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes home again. Basically two people in a car listening to the radio and talking.

Peter plays John Redmond, a sensible assistant manager at a grocery store which has launched a car share scheme. His assigned partner is Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson) a more free-spirited type who does the grocery’s in-store promotions (offering cheese samples, wearing fruit costumes around the store for jam week, etc.).

Granted, their inaugural trip is a rocky one…


Nevertheless, over the following weeks and months, John and Kayleigh fall into a comfortable friendship and perhaps a bit more.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! Alas at the end of series one,  it appears as though the pair’s joy riding must come to an end. Kaleigh can no longer afford her mortgage and has to move in with her sister who doesn’t live anywhere near John’s route to work.

So why do I want a chance to take a ride in the cute red Fiat? (Don’t tell anyone, but before I started checking a few details for this post, I really thought it was a Mini-Cooper!) Aside from the novelty of driving on the left side of the road obviously?

First of all, I want to experience the nostalgic brilliance that is Forever FM. Peter “commissioned the production of six breakfast and drive time shows with real presenters, items, news bulletins, weather and commercials.” You can even access the playlists from each episode here. And who doesn’t love a bit of a sing-a-long with the timeless hits, now and forever.


A desirable quality in a car share buddy is good listening skills. It’s rare to find someone willing to tolerate your interests, buck up your insecurities and remember what you’ve told them about your various family members. John does all three, in a low key sort of way of course.


And finally, considering my keen interest in British culture, slang and, well let’s just say, eccentricities, I can tell John/Peter is the perfect person to set me straight. Ever since I’ve been studying British telly, I’ve heard the term “dogging” but it was always mentioned as an innuendo. This clip doesn’t include the entire scene with everything spelled out (having sex outdoors with people watching) but from John’s reaction you can tell I’m not the only one who was confused about this activity.

So anyway, call me Peter Kay if you need a temporary replacement to fill Kayleigh’s passenger seat until such time as you can plot out a reason for her to return in series two. I’ll even sit in the backseat. Just don’t make me out to be smelly and rude like Reece Shearsmith’s fishmonger character. I realize carpooling with someone living in the American Midwest makes even less sense then driving to a neighboring town but I’d be willing to relocate for the experience alone.


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As I write this, the British public are voting for their new government. I hear it could possibly be the closest election in UK history and another coalition will probably have to be created.

I have watched this election cycle with some interest. While today’s polling outcome will not affect me directly which I admit is part of the attraction, I believe it has held my attention mainly because the campaigning hasn’t gone on so long that I’ve become numb to the main players and their party messages. It may not feel like it to UK citizens but your democratic process is a sprint compared to our grueling marathon of a system.

I mean in the US, our next presidential election is eighteen months off and already we have half a dozen Republican candidates who’ve thrown their hats in the ring with who knows how many more on the horizon. Forgive us if our eyes glaze over because the American public will soon be enduring infuriatingly negative TV ads, incessant campaign phone calls (for those still possessing a land line) and a whole lot of mud-raking, fact twisting and pseudo-patriotic rhetoric being thrown about for the next year and a half. Not to mention the caucuses, primaries and conventions that predict, eliminate and finally anoint the official candidates for the actual general election. The UK’s twenty-five day campaign period sounds like an impossible dream that could never be achieved matter how desperately we wish it to be so.

So how have I been following this more imminent election, you may ask? Well, I did watch a portion of the Leaders’ Debate on YouTube.

Seven party leaders on one stage - debate or game show image credit ITV

Seven party leaders on one stage – debate or game show
image credit ITV

It was a bit overwhelming, but I got the gist of it. Farage is a xenophobe. Cameron, as you would expect, is defensive. Miliband is being mistaken for Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is still in the doghouse for breaking his no-tuition fees promise from the last election.

I realize I have no right to suggest what’s best for another country’s people, but based on that debate performance perhaps your best option is to allow the ladies to form a coalition and let them get on with running things. Though with the SNP and Plaid Cymru as two-thirds of equation, you might not have much of United Kingdom left in the end.

Apart from the aforementioned debate the rest of my political research comes from my telly viewing (of course). I have the background of shows like Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and House of Cards. That’s not to insinuate that any of the current leaders would go to the cold-blooded extremes of Francis Urquhart.

I also watched the TV movie Coalition for more understanding on how the current government was negotiated.


I was taken with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s dilemma between joining the Tories or Labour and his idealistic desire to finally put his party in a position to make a difference in government. Alas I didn’t know about Tuition-gate nor the fact that Clegg had the option to pull out of the coalition when it was obvious the Tories weren’t going to play nice. I understand this would have forced another election, but he apparently chose to go with the status quo which turned him into an ineffectual deputy prime minister instead.

There has been one series, however, that has really given me the clearest picture of this highly-contested national campaign and that is the satirical sitcom, Ballot Monkeys. In it we follow the campaign teams of the four major parties as they travel up and down the country trying to inspire the British public to vote for them. There is nothing more revealing than seeing things from the point of view of a politician’s staff.


Desperate for the women’s vote and trying hard not to come across as posh toffs, the Tories seem to be sending a mixed message about who their leader really is – David or Boris.



Ed Miliband has the loyalty and trust of his party staff. Nevertheless, their campaign strategy is to focus on the team rather than their leader who they perceive as having some public appeal issues.


Lib Dems

Having your leader be seen as a failure has put a lot of pressure on Lib Dem coordinator Kevin Sturridge (Ben Miller) in particular. He carries on his shoulders the stress of supporter apathy and the virtual shunning of his entire party in the media. It’s bound to take a toll on such a committed supporter.



And finally we come to UKIP. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Farage’s Army are portrayed as ultra-nationalistic, anti-immigrant and homophobic as well as violent. Poor Gerry Stagg (Andy Nyman) seems to be the only level head in the entire party, but he’s wasted by constantly having to stamp out fires created by supporters, candidates and the party leader himself.


I realize Ballot Monkeys is deliberately exaggerating the foibles of the candidates and the character of their voter base. That being said, no party gets preferential treatment and everyone gets roasted equally. Another aspect of this show is that they waited until the last minute to film each episode so national events and the inevitable campaign trail gaffes could be included in a timely fashion. If that’s not a commitment to accuracy, I don’t know what is.

Since I’m not a UK citizen (and under a UKIP government, I never will be), I obviously don’t have a vote. Nor do I have the perspective of one who lives under the unique conditions and problems of that country. However, I did take a 25 question on-line quiz which identified the party with which I most agree philosophically. Let’s just say my coalition’s color would be orange…

As my British readers go to the polls today  I bid you to vote your conscience whatever your political views might be. It’s the way democracy works and if you don’t like the outcome you only have to wait five years at the most to change it!

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SPOILER ALERT for any show listed below especially Bluestone 42!

So it’s tatty bye to Bluestone 42‘s Captain Nick Medhurst. The bomb disposal detachment’s charismatic Ammunition Technical Officer played by Oliver Chris has finally run out of luck.

Tower Block and Nick running from yet another explosion image credit BBC

Tower Block and Nick running from yet another explosion
image credit BBC


He was critically injured while trying to free a fellow soldier from a booby trap and though he survived, Medhurst did lose a leg. Looking back over the past series I suppose there were clues; the tricky Taliban bomb maker who seemed to be targeting the Captain specifically, the IED and ambush that resulted in a tense situation for the team and a serious concussion for Nick. He was definitely on his way out though we couldn’t know exactly when or how.

Anyhow, an amputee explosives expert just won’t do so, of course, Nick will be sent home to Old Blighty. Meanwhile  his replacement has already arrived in Afghanistan. We’ll have to see how new ATO Ellen Best (Laura Aikman) fares in his place.

So why is this television event significant, you may ask? Well, for those who don’t know, Bluestone 42 isn’t a war drama or even a “dramedy”. It’s a proper 30 minute sitcom. And while it’s not unheard of to dispatch a character from a comedy, it seems more jarring than when a crisis is encountered in a more straight forward drama.

For example, after suffering a miserable forced retirement you’d hope that One Foot in the Grave’s Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) might be granted a happier ending in the series finale.


Considering the cantankerousity of the man and his constant state of misfortune, perhaps the writers believed killing him off in a hit and run accident was the kindest thing they could do for him. RIP Mr. Meldrew.

Derek, on the other hand, breaks the mold. It disguises itself as a traditional sitcom with its format and the presence of its creator, director and star Ricky Gervais. The thing is Derek has as many touching, sad moments as funny ones. It is set in a retirement home after all so illness and death are a daily occurrence. Many of Derek’s friends succumb to old age and infirmity and every time, he is grief-stricken.

But for me the most shocking exit on the series was the episode when Ivor, a dog that was brought to the home to visit with the residents, was euthanized on-screen. Not “Say goodbye, Derek. Ivor’s going to sleep now,” then fade out. They re-enacted with painful detail exactly how it is to have a beloved pet put down. It was more devastating, by far, then when Derek’s own father died a few episodes later.

Derek and Ivor saying goodbye image credit Derek Productions and Channel 4

Derek and Ivor saying goodbye
image credit Derek Productions and Channel 4


Finally, tragic comedy is stunning even when you know something bad is coming. However, because you’re watching a comedy you think there’s a chance the characters will cheat their fate. Blackadder Goes Forth is a perfect example of this. As we watch one cunning plan after another fail, the viewer wants to believe that there is no way this band of misfit WWI soldiers will be sent over the top to their inevitable deaths.


And yet they do, in stiff upper lip, dark British humor style, they do what they must. I still shed a tear every time I watch that scene. I believe it has such emotional impact precisely because it’s placed in a comedy framework.

So next time you’re watching a UK sitcom, don’t let yourself get too comfortable with your favorite on-screen friends. Appreciate them while you have them. Their chances might be better than soap opera or Game of Thrones characters, but no one is ever completely safe in the harsh and sometimes fickle world of British comedy television.


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