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From the archives, here are my thoughts on Pancake Day.

Everything I Know about the UK... I Learned from the BBC

Today is Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day before the day when those who are so inclined give up things they enjoy such as sweets, caffeine and alcohol for a period of forty days. Though I’ve never been a practitioner of self-denial, one year I decided to see for myself why my Catholic friends were always moaning about Lent. I gave up watching soap operas. I suppose I missed the point since not giving a toss about the thing you are foregoing really doesn’t generate much suffering or self-reflection. Weaning myself off pop would have been a much more worthy test of my will; however, those close to me would have endured great hardship and I couldn’t put them through such horrors.

So today is the day when people around the world indulge in rich food and drink or just let their hair down for one last hurrah before they subject themselves…

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image credit Catholic Herald

image credit Catholic Herald

As I write this the people of the UK are voting on a referendum to remain in or leave the European Union. You may have heard it referred to as the British Exit or Brexit. If you aren’t familiar with the term or were not aware that this momentous decision was nigh, here’s an a look at the arguments on both sides.

 

 

The Scottish referendum to leave or remain in the UK grabbed my interest in 2014 and I’ve kept an eye on UK politics ever since. For the Scottish vote and the 2015 general election I tried to inform myself and even stayed up to watch the streamed results live from my computer.

There was also a very helpful sitcom satire about the general election called Ballot Monkeys which put the party manifestos and public gaffes of the politicians on display in as close to real time as a scripted show could possibly do. This time around the same creators have given us Power Monkeys which attempts to parody the Leave and Remain camps.

I find the show’s decision to include speculation on what Vladimir Putin’s interest in Brexit  might be and a look at Trump’s failed pursuit of the female vote to be unnecessary and unsatisfying. However, I must admit there has been a degree of distraction and fatigue on my part fueled by the bizarreness that dominates the political climate in my own country.  In fact, I find the decision before the British people today to be eerily familiar to the tone of the US’ current divisive presidential race.

Campaign strategies for today’s referendum have included a crowd sourced documentary named simply Brexit: The Movie. It was produced to communicate the filmmaker’s view that the EU is an overly bureaucratic and corrupt institution which doesn’t work in Britain’s best interest.

 

On the other hand, several hundred British celebrities have signed an open letter stating their belief that it is better for Britain to work inside the EU framework than to stand apart and isolated from it.

 

And here is a situation where the two sides clashed in a very public confrontation.  This exchange involved a group of fishermen and, more flagrantly,  two very rich white men – United Kingdom Independence Party kingpin Nigel Farage and Remain advocate and musician Bob Geldof. Not as outrageous as what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth on a daily basis, but peculiar (and probably staged) all the same.

 

In an extreme and tragically related incident, Labour MP and Remain supporter Jo Cox was murdered last week. Thomas Mair who was arrested for the crime reportedly shouted “Put Britain first” while carrying out his attack. He also identified himself as”death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when appearing at his first court hearing. While there is no indication anyone in the Leave camp would ever encourage such an act, it’s obvious the toxic nature of this debate has spilled over into uncharacteristic violence by some agitated/emotionally unstable individuals.

Slain MP Jo Cox

 

i know it’s not my place to persuade anyone how to vote, especially someone in another country. But I do hope that in the privacy of the voting booth, the people of the UK will make their decisions with a clear head and realistic expectations. Be a good example to your cousins across the pond and remember that you can still, in the words of John Oliver, “relentlessly insult Europe, and quietly acknowledge how lost we’d be without it.”

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Paper hats? Check. Organic Twiglets? Check! Homemade “wine”? Check. Just add a chorus of Auld Lang Syne and you should be ready for a cracking British New Year’s Party. Here’s hoping your guests don’t surreptitiously move your clock ahead and sneak off to a better party next door.

 

 

Thanks to everyone who read, commented on or shared posts from my blog this year. It is a privilege to have so many of you participate in my obsessive passion for Great Britain. I hereby identify you as my enablers.

2014 was a year of quality telly with great dramas like Happy Valley, The Missing, Line of Duty and Our Girl. Notable comedies for me were Moone Boy, Rev. and Detectorists. I discovered the guilty pleasure of Gogglebox. I watched the live feed of the Scottish Referendum results and we got a Scottish Doctor. The Germans, however, won the World Cup (sorry). We said goodbye to Miranda, Derek, Alfie Wickers and the Brockman family. We said rest in peace to Roger Lloyd Pack, Bob Hoskins, Rik Mayall and Lord Richard Attenborough among others.

At this time please let me wish you and yours a prosperous New Year. Fingers crossed 2015 will be an even better year for telly as well!

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British-Themed Gifts 2014

029Does my family know me or what? My cache of UK gifts this year include a Union Jack umbrella, pint glasses, Burberry Brit perfume and a book about The North by Stuart Maconie. I couldn’t be more chuffed!

What was your favorite gift this year?

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Whether you call it No Shave November or Movember, it’s the time of year that has been dedicated to bringing male health concerns to the fore. What does this have to do with telly, you may ask? Well, nothing specifically, but as my family and friends will attest, I can bring any topic around to my obsession with British entertainment.

Therefore, I have a compiled a collection of British celebrities who are rarely seen without some degree of facial hair. Be they big bushy whiskers, neatly trimmed goatees or something in between, these are examples of beards that may motivate my male readers to forgo the razor for the month. I realize it’s a HUGE sacrifice, but I have faith you can resist.

 

Brian Blessed has a beard with a personality all it’s own which is just as you would expect from someone as bombastic as the actor himself. This style is not for the follicly challenged so take it slow and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t achieve this level of growth the first time around.However, if you too are a larger-than-life type of fellow, this might be just the beard for you.

Brian Blessed image credit Vada Magazine

image credit Vada Magazine

 

Jack Whitehall is a posh young actor/comedian with meticulously messy hair and a well-groomed beard. Whether he’s playing a university student, a secondary school teacher or appearing on numerous panel shows, Whitehall sports the same trademark look that says no matter the role, he has time for product and a quick touch up with the good old definer/trimmer. A few years back Mr. Whitehall was rather baby-faced so this might be a good look if you desire a privileged and defined  jawline.

Jack Whitehall image credit Liverpool Echo

image credit Liverpool Echo

 

Russell Brand should never go clean shaven, in my opinion. Have you seen Arthur?  The beardless Brand lost his attitude and his edge without saying a word. If you need to hide a vulnerability or you just feel the top half of your face is decidedly more attractive than the bottom, a neat but prominent beard like Russell’s may make all the difference.

 

Russell Brand  image credit Huffington Post UK

image credit Huffington Post UK

 

Billy Connolly has had some creative manner of facial hair more often than not in his long career. But recently the Scottish comedian has let his silver locks and beard grow to new lengths. Perhaps his battles with both prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease have prompted this almost spiritual new look. If you want to display your support or a signify a struggle you’ve endured, you can’t go wrong emulating Mr. Connolly.

Billy Connelly image credit Radio Times

image credit Radio Times

 

Kit Harrington has made his career so far by starring in the massively popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones. When you appear in productions like this (and the decidedly less successful “historical” action drama Pompeii) beards become an integral part of your look. After all when you’re the bastard son of a nobleman banished from your home and sent to protect the people who’ve rejected you from savages, you really don’t have much time for a shave and haircut. Short on bathroom time in the morning or too concerned with escaping from deadly molten lava? Take young Mr. Harrington’s lead.

Kit Harrington  image credit HBO

image credit HBO

 

Chris O’Dowd normally has a full but noticeably neat and maintained beard – it’s almost too perfectly even. But when the Irish actor starred as Lennie in the Broadway production Of Mice and Men earlier this year, he took on a more shaggy appearance. It’s the style all the fashionable rabbit-loving farm hands are sporting this century. With wash and go ease, it’s a beard that suits the vagabond lifestyle.  So if you can sprout whiskers at a drop of a hat, this is a look you should definitely consider.

Chris O'Dowd image credit

image credit Broadway.com

 

And finally, if understatement is more your cup of tea, I offer Idris Elba as your facial hair role model. This London-born actor of African parents flaunts a variety of beard options from stubble to goatee all the way to a full, yet dapper, beard. It may take a bit more time in front of the mirror, but if you want to capture the spirit of No Shave November without looking like a crazed mountain hermit, the extra effort is well worth it.

Idris Elba image credit Getty

image credit Getty

 

Now that I’ve sorted out your November facial hair dilemma, you can concentrate on more important matters such as donating to cancer charities, learning about your specific health risks and seeing your doctor for all required annual check ups and tests. And ladies, there’s no rule saying you can’t participate in the cause by putting down the razor as well… or perhaps by encouraging the men in your life to take care of their health.

Also please share your favorite examples of British bearded blokes in the comments below. After all, a well informed beard choice means we can all enjoy No Shave November just a bit more.

 

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I posted this back in October, but after noticing that Michael Socha was trending on Facebook today, I figured I needed to bring my objections up again…

Everything I Know about the UK... I Learned from the BBC

While channel surfing the other evening, I saw something that made me stop mid-click.

ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was not on my radar as must-see TV… and after this scene was over I didn’t watch much further. However what caught my attention was the bad boy Knave of Hearts played by Michael Socha.

Michael Socha Michael Socha

Best known for his role as the sweetly naive werewolf from the final three seasons of the UK version of Being Human, Tom McNair became my favorite character of the entire series.

While his new job might be part of a flashy American fantasy/adventure saga, Socha’s performances on Being Human were consistently funny, brave and touching. The werewolf transformations, gory vampire attacks and poltergeist effects were just supernatural window dressing in which very human situations could occur.  I suspect OUATIW is yet another trendy fairy tale derivative and while some might find that kind…

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Colman and Mitchell as Sophie and Mark in Peep Show

Colman and Mitchell as Sophie and Mark in Peep Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, that  David Mitchell. The one who has disastrous luck with women and constantly finds himself in awkward dating scenarios on the sitcom Peep Show. The one who rants about all the minutiae that annoys him on panel shows like Would I Lie to You and QI. 

 

Who knew that Mr. Mitchell actually had something to say about matters of the heart? Well, here are just a few examples of his over-analyzed musings on topics that fall into the realm of romance…

 

The Definition of Passion

 

The Audacity of Giving Flowers

 

The Psychology of Paying Compliments

 

Consider it my Valentine to you…emotional guidance from a cynical realist with confidence issues.  A better gift than chocolate, I dare say!

 

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Sometimes I wonder if the UK Tourist Board and the television industry are just one big conglomerate.  The photo below shows a location used in the most recent British drama sensation, Broadchurch.

West Bay Beach image credit travel.aol.co.uk

 

One look at the blue skies, towering cliffs and crystal waters of the Dorset coast and I knew this was a place I wanted to add to my UK itinerary…you know, that open-ended trek that I’ll be taking one of these days in the undetermined future?

The problem is I think most everyone who has seen Broadchurch probably feels the same way and is flocking to the West Dorset area in droves and as we speak.

It’s happened in other scenic villages of course.  Just down the road from Dorset in the Cornwall area, Doc Martin‘s Port Wenn aka Port Isaac has attracted visitors from around the globe.

There’s also a company called Avocatours that caters to fans of Ballykissangel – Avoca being the real name of the Irish town where the show was filmed.  Here are some of their customers lounging outside of Assumpta’s public house.

image credit Avocatours

image credit Avocatours

Fingers crossed West Bay, Bridport , Clevedon and all the Dorset environs will remain breathtaking, charming and relatively crowd-free.  I don’t want my expectations spoiled by tourists when I finally do get there. It’s hard to be optimistic, however, when you see signs like this already…

Found on the Bridport & West Bay Facebook page

Found on the Bridport & West Bay Facebook page

Have you ever been to a filming location turned tourist mecca?  If so, were you pleased or disappointed with the experience?

P.S. If you were expecting a post about the characters, story lines or performances found in the very excellent murder mystery Broadchurch, check in at Smitten by Britain in a few days.  I’ll be covering the actual show over there.  And remember BBC America begins broadcasting the series tonight at 10 pm.

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Last night the US version of The Office ended its nine season run.  Despite essentially worshiping the original British series, I found a place in my heart for the American employees of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.  It took a while, but the writers won me over with their ability to honor the spirit of  the standard while creating their own take on the dysfunctional office experience. For example this would have never happened on The Office (UK):

Angela and Dwight standing in their graves image credit insidetv.ew.com

Angela and Dwight standing in their graves image credit insidetv.ew.com

 

It has to be said that the success of The Office‘s reinvention is a rarity.  Coupling, The IT Crowd, Teachers, and Spaced are just a few examples of British comedies chosen for an American makeover.  All of them failed, if not in the pilot phase, then mid-season when it was discovered that the sensibilities, the nuances or the humor of the original didn’t exactly translate.  This happens often enough, they made a whole sitcom about it…

 

However, the formula has been known to work in the past since several ultra-classic 1970’s sitcoms have sprouted from British roots.  Here are just a few examples that you may not have been aware of:

Till Death Do Us Part (1965-1975)

moved to Queens, New York but retained an equally intolerant patriarch :

All in the Family (1971-1979)

 

 

Man About the House (1973-1976)

relocated from London to sunny California but the housing arrangement stayed eerily the same:

Three’s Company (1976-1984)

 

 

Steptoe and Son (1962-1974)

stayed in the junk trade but took a decidedly ethnic departure from the original series:

Sanford and Son (1972-1977)

 

 

The next big UK to US adaptation in the pipeline is Us & Them – the Americanization of Gavin and Stacey.  It’s set to air on FOX this fall and only time will tell if the executive producing influence of Ruth Jones and James Corden (the creators of the original series) will have any tangible effect.

 

Rather than reworking all these hit British shows into mediocre imitations, I propose that it would be more efficient to just provide us with greater access to British programming, particularly new comedy.  There are enough American viewers who love the British imports just as they are.  We like the humor, the accents, the slang and the pop references.  Leave them be and let those of us who “get it” get on with it.

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Last week I wrote a post about wartime sitcoms and someone named Dante (who claims to have read it) was kind enough to say “Lovely stuff. You should mention Blackadder series 4 here too perhaps – the UK’s best war-based comedy.”

As fate would have it, I just so happened to be in the middle of watching Blackadder Goes Forth when this suggestion was made.  Now that I’ve seen the series right up to the surprisingly tragic end, I must say I agree with Dante and would consider this epic comedy to be one of my favorites full stop.

Blackadder Goes Forth cast image credit amazon.com

Blackadder Goes Forth cast image credit amazon.com

 

If you would like to read my impressions of the entire 400 year saga, please follow this link to my Smitten By Britain post entitled The Evolution of Edmund Blackadder.

 

 

 

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