Posts Tagged ‘Ballykissangel’

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to hearts and flowers and bloggers try to find a new angle on the Valentine’s Day post. Looking back I have explored telly couples who were obviously destined for one another and, on the flip side, other pairings that probably weren’t a very good idea. This year I’m examining that tried and true plot device, the love triangle, in which one character has to choose between two (and sometimes more) suitors. I’ve compiled five examples of this exhilarating yet often heartbreaking scenario and at the end I’m going to ask you to vote for the trio who you felt did it best.

Miranda, Gary and Mike from Miranda

Once the poster girl for lonely hearts, now Miranda’s facing an embarrassment of riches (or proposals, as it were)!


Ross, Elizabeth and Demelza from Poldark

This is what happens when everyone thinks you’ve died in a far off war and it’s best for your betrothed to just move on. And then you meet a fire-haired street urchin…


Amy, Rory and The Doctor from Doctor Who

Miss Pond has carried a torch for the Doctor since they met (as adults anyway). Despite the fact that she married Rory, it takes some time for her husband to believe she prefers him over the fascinating Time Lord.


Assumpta, Leo and Peter from Ballykissangel 

What to do when you fall for a priest? Get married to an old school beau, that’s what.


Gillian, Robbie and John from Last Tango in Halifax

Considering Gillian’s track record with men, you could argue this one is a love square or perhaps even a pentagon. But since Robbie and John are her only age appropriate suitors, I feel I this qualifies as a three-sided love affair.

image credit Courtesy of Ben Blackall/© Anthony and Cleopatra Series Ltd

image credit Courtesy of Ben Blackall/© Anthony and Cleopatra Series Ltd


Now you decide. Take our poll and have your Valentine’s Day 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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I watched Cold Comfort Farm for the first time and while I never found out what nasty thing Ada Doom saw in the woodshed or what wrong had been done to Robert Poste, I enjoyed meeting all its eccentric inhabitants.  It also got me thinking about how British farmers are generally portrayed.  They’re usually not very interested in cleanliness and have an ever-present patina of mud on their faces.  They tend to be suspicious of strangers and seem to prefer the company of their livestock.  Their accents sound quite archaic, almost as though the world they inhabit has remained untouched by all modern influence.  The best comparison I can offer is that they resemble our simplified impressions of the rural Appalachian population of the US.

I’ve had a difficult time finding quick and efficient clips to demonstrate this type of lifestyle and character so I would recommend checking out The Vicar of Dibley where you will meet Owen Newitt, a lonely bachelor farmer whose only human contact is serving on the village council.  There’s also plenty of rural charm in All Creatures Great and Small where veterinarian James Harriot heals the livestock of many a Yorkshire farmer.  Period dramas often depict the struggles Mother Nature visits upon the hardworking field hand,  but most of today’s farms face monetary challenges as well.  On Clatterford aka Jam and Jerusalem, Tip and Colin Haddem try to keep their heads above water in the world of expensive modern farm equipment.  Doc Martin‘s Aunt Joan battles with a neighboring farmer whose use of pesticides threatens her organic farming license.  Even sheep farmer Eamon from Ballykissangel has to finagle the system to get by – even if it means stationing fake wooden sheep all over his land in hopes of increasing his farm subsidy.

So to all those farmers out there, in appreciation for what you do here’s some humorous agricultural advice from The Mitchell and Webb Situation:



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Boston Duck Tour - Amphibious transport

An unexpected benefit of a recent family vacation to Boston was that my experiences on that trip have made me a more informed commuter and therefore completely qualified to complete this series of posts.  During this vacation, I relied on just about every form of public transit possible from airplanes to the subway; commuter trains, buses and a duck.   Don’t get me wrong.  I felt good about what mass transit does to help the environment and the lessons I learned about bus and subway etiquette were very valuable.  The people-watching opportunities alone were worth the experience.   But by the time I got back home, I was looking forward to hopping into my trusty 1998 Toyota Camry and driving where I wanted, whenever the fancy struck me.  Americans love their cars and the freedom driving represents.  So what has television taught me about the British attitude towards automobiles?  Let’s look at a few examples:

Mr. Bean shows us that sitting inside your car is for the conventional and unimaginative driver.


Minder – Used car salesmen are slimy and suspect on either side of the pond.


Open All Hours – In the UK, a Morris Minor can double as a changing room.

From the reckless speed of tedious car chase scenes in The Sweeney and Minder (and later Life on Mars  featuring a 1974 Ford Cortina) to gingerly navigating narrow village lanes and the even more treacherous winding country roads of All Creatures Great and Small, Doc Martin and Ballykissangel, I don’t think the British are all that different when it comes to taking to the open road.  The biggest difference of course is that whole driving on the left side of the road business and maybe roundabouts…

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It’s St. Patrick’s Day, the day when everyone adds an O’ to their name and pulls out their greenest article of clothing in order to avoid the dreaded pinch.  Bars begin serving green beer at breakfast and by parade time the streets are full of displays of public drunkenness.  For most people in the the US anyhow, it’s an excuse for a party that has very little to do with the patron saint of Ireland.

I  was fortunate enough to spend a St. Patrick’s weekend in Ireland…back in the Thatcher years.  An enterprising London School of Economics student named Rory O’Driscoll (not making that up) organized a guided tour of the real Ireland – not Dublin, and I quote, “because it’s just like an English city.”  What I discovered about the real Ireland was that ferrying across the North Sea can induce mass vomiting, cows and sheep will block country roads, hitchhiking is perfectly safe especially if you’re from Australia, and it doesn’t matter if “it’s f…ing 10 o’clock” in the morning, the village pub is the best place to wait for your fellow travelers to assemble.

Actually we saw beautiful sights like the Cliffs of Moher, Galway Bay, Bunratty Castle and Ailwee Cave.  People in the pubs and shops were friendly and at Fibber McGee’s some regulars taught us a jig.  We stayed in thatched roof cottages in Ballyvaughn and got to experience a rather odd St. Paddy’s parade which was basically a slow procession of every large vehicle and farm machine to be found in the town of Cahir.  No green rivers and no one dressed as a leprechaun was anywhere to be found.

Does television in the UK accurately portray the Irish as a people? First of all I realize that the Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom.  But there is a long history between them and they are now close neighbors if nothing else.  I haven’t had the opportunity to watch much Irish-produced television.  There’s The Clinic, a show about a Dublin-based medical practice and the drama that ensues in such an environment.  Series 1 is the only one available to watch in the US.  It could have taken place in any city though and didn’t shed much light on Irishness for me.   Ballykissangel chronicles the lives people in a rural Irish village but I’ve referenced it several times before.  And finally Father Ted, the sitcom which lets us in on the lives of three Irish Catholic priests assigned by the diocese to remote Craggy Island in hopes that they’ll do less damage there, while humorous, gave me few Irish insights.

As there are obvious gaps in my Irish viewing experience, I will work to remedy that for next year.  In the meantime, the link below is a list compiled by RTE, Ireland’s national television and radio broadcaster, of top ten Irish or Irish-related programs to watch.


To make up for my shortcomings in this post, please accept this comedy clip of Dylan Moran (Black Books and Shaun of the Dead) talking about some of the differences between the English and the Irish.

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Doc Martin's Gremlin

I’ve heard it said that the British show more affection to their dogs and horses than to other people.  And while I know that’s not exactly true, I can relate.  I too am a big softy when it comes to animals.  Give me a dog to cuddle over a baby any day.  (Of course, my own children fall into an entirely different category).  If I’m watching a tv show or a movie, I’m more likely to sob if an animal is injured or dies than if harm comes to a human.  And don’t get me started on those desperately sad ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background.  In my house, everyone  knows to just turn the channel.

What I have found on British television is that most relationships with animals are of the utilitarian variety.   Farmers take good care of their sheep, cows, pigs, etc. because the livestock are their livelihood.  There is a sense of responsibility and respect for the animals, if not affection – unless you count Cranford‘s  Mrs. Forrester who dresses her cow in a long underwear type of garment and takes her on walks through town like a dog.  We observe this type of relationship through country vets like Siobhan Mehigan who serves the area around Ballykissangel.  You’ll likely find her on the road to local farms like Eamon Byrne’s to attend to his sheep – the real ones, not the plywood ones he uses to fool the authorities.  Then there’s the Yorkshire veterinary practice of the brothers Farnon and James Herriot from All Creatures Great and Small.  I’ve only watched a few episodes, but so far a litter of baby pigs, some sheep attacked by feral herding dogs, several sick cows and a pampered lapdog named Tricky Woo have been attended to by the capable Darrowby vets.  Alas, there is always an end to these human/animal affiliations whether it be due to accident, age or well…  harvesting of the end product.  You know it’s coming and though the farmers are matter of fact about the lives of their animals you can see appreciation and sometimes sadness as they make the decision to say goodbye.  I could never be a farmer, can you tell?

Then there are loyal canine friends like Wee Jock, Constable Hamish Macbeth‘s West Highland Terrier.  Beware there is a tragic storyline for Wee Jock, so if you are softhearted like me, prepare yourself.  James Herriot has Dan, the black lab, to accompany him on farm calls.  Then there’s Doc Martin.  He has a constant companion that he doesn’t want.  From the moment he shows up in Port Wenn, there is an adorable scraggly mutt at his doorstep who keeps coming back no matter how many times Martin shoos him away.  You keep hoping the Doc will soften and take this animal who is so attached to him into his heart…but as you get to know Martin Ellingham you realize it’s more complicated than that.  (The ironic thing is that Martin Clunes, the actor who plays the doc, is a renowned dog lover!)

So do Brits love their animals more than Americans do?  Probably not, but there is certainly an affinity for four-legged friends in the UK.  They are enjoyed and perhaps more often used for their intended purpose (herding, hunting, mousers, etc.) than in the US and that probably makes any animal happier. I guess that means I need to find a place where my dog Malcolm can actually take a real swim, and not just in the baby pool we bought for him.  He deserves to be all the lab he can be.

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St. Paul's Cathedral

I am not a religious person; most of the time I don’t even think “spiritual” is a word that can be used to describe me.  So of course, as a secular being, I am well qualified to talk about the Christian Church as an institution and about religion in the UK specifically.  That’s my disclaimer and now here’s what I know:

In Britain you will find most of the Protestant denominations represented as well as the Catholic Church. Many of you will remember how Henry the VIII needed to get rid of a few wives and that pesky Catholic Church just wasn’t cooperating…  And so voila – the Church of England was born; basically the Catholic Church minus the Pope . While this explanation is exceedingly simplistic, it works for the purposes of this humble blogger.

Some years down the line from Henry the VIII’s convenient creation of the Church of England (aka the Anglican Church), it seems that becoming a vicar was one of a limited number of career choices for the privileged classes and not necessarily a spiritual calling.  Or so I gather from the many Jane Austen movies I’ve seen.

Fast forward to modern day and religious figures are all over British television. In Ireland, Catholic priests are the norm although I’m pretty sure Father Ted, along with his inept and dementia-ridden colleagues, are ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes.  Probably more based in reality is the depiction of spiritual life in the village of Ballykissangel.  Overseen by Father MacAnally (a very accurate representation of the traditional priest, I’m told) a series of young clergymen arrive to serve the community.  We see not only their great compassion, but also witness their dark and doubting moments as well.

Anglican priests are most often referred to as vicars.  Their vestments are similar to those of their Catholic counterparts including the familiar dog collar.  Unlike Catholic priests, Anglican clergy are allowed to marry and women can be ordained as priests.  There  is also a British tradition of Tarts and Vicars costume parties wherein guests dress as prostitutes or members of the clergy.  If you’ve seen Bridget Jones, you know what I’m talking about.   A cursory search yielded no explanation for the origins of such gatherings.

Representing the Anglican Church in Clatterford is the fussy, insensitive and vain vicar, Reverend Hillary (I don’t recall if his surname is ever mentioned).  To be fair, in series 3 we see a softer to side to the vicar and learn of his considerable loneliness.  On Keeping Up Appearances, Hyacinth Bucket terrorizes the handsome young vicar by constantly inviting him to her famous candlelight suppers.  He is also an object of seduction for Hyacinth’s man-crazy sister, Rose, much to the displeasure of his jealous wife.

My all-time favorite vicar is Geraldine Granger, The Vicar of Dibley. Although the members of the congregation of St. Barnabus Church aren’t too sure about having a female leading their parish, Gerry (played by Dawn French) eventually wins them over with her humor, warmth, and enthusiasm.  She drinks, she really likes men and chocolate, she can get starstruck and full of herself at times- she is human.  With someone like her in the pulpit, I might even make it into the pews on a Sunday.

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Former Old Rising Sun- photo by Ewen M

The local pub (short for public house) is a familiar fixture in British culture.  Making a commitment to patronize a specific pub is a very personal choice.  You have to find the right one – the right atmosphere, the right clientele, the right bar snacks.  There is an episode of Men Behaving Badly that demonstrates this very sentiment.  In their London neighborhood, Gary and Tony’s usual haunt, The Crown, is being refurbished and the barman is being replaced.  So the two friends set out to visit several area pubs with a chart in hand listing criteria to help them choose the best substitute.

 The importance of a pub in smaller communities can be even more significant.  It serves as one of the few places the adults in the village can gather for relaxation, entertainment and a little friendly competition (i.e. pub quiz).  In Ballykissangel that place is Fitzgerald’s and, oddly enough, it is Assumpta Fitzgerald, the no-nonsense proprietor, who provides this welcoming warmth. 

Though women are welcome there, pubs are often portrayed as a sanctuary for  men.  Adam and Pete from Cold Feet retire to the pub anytime they have troubles to discuss, usually about women.  When some men, like Shameless’ Frank Gallagher, go to the pub it’s bad news for his family because he’s been known to drink away his welfare benefit.  On the other hand, Roy and Moss from The IT Crowd don’t seem very at home in such establishments.  In fact, they have to resort to computer technology to teach them football jargon just so they can fit in with the “real men” often found at the bar.

I’m a bit sad to find out the neighborhood pub from my college days in London twenty-odd years ago goes by a rubbish new name now.  My dear Old Rising Sun is currently called Coco Momo!  With a name like that, it probably isn’t even a pub anymore.  I remember the barman being very friendly and inviting all us Americans to the pub’s Robert Burns’ birthday night.  It was at the Sun that I learned important pub etiquette –  ladies may order as many half pints as they like, but order a pint and you’re thought of as something of a slut.  I had my first hard cider there which was a nice change from lager or stout.  I even tried a shandy, which is lager mixed with carbonated lemonade (actually a ginger ale or a citrus-type soda). 
I know that after so many years I couldn’t realistically expect everything to stay the way it was.  But the Old Rising Sun was our place and I felt I belonged – even if the barman just called me “luv”.

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As most children in the US are returning to classes for a fresh new school year, I thought this would be the perfect time to share what I know about the British education system.  Whether it be a small village schoolhouse or a large city institution, the biggest difference between American and British school life seems to be the in the terms we use.

What we know in the US as public schools are referred to as state schools in the UK.  There the term public school actually means an independent, private school not supported by the government.  In The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard, the newly elected prime minister has to decide whether to send her youngest daughter to a safer public school with a better achievement record or to make a statement about her government by having her daughter attend a more challenged, state supported school in London.

Primary school includes children in the 5-11 year old range.  In both Ballykissangel and Doc Martin  there are small village schools with no-nonsense, dedicated teachers.  Brenden Kearney keeps the BallyK children in hand, but finds it more difficult to keep his job with the parish school board just waiting for him to trip up.  Louisa Glasson is head teacher at Portwenn’s primary school and apparently carries the burden of responsiblity for each student’s education, health and family situation.

Older students attend a secondary school which can be either a comprehensive school (more general, open to all students) or a grammar school (selective, single sex schools you must be able to test into).  Students are required to be in some form of learning environment until the age of 16. The GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are taken at this time after which students may choose to leave school.

If they decide to stay, they can attend a technical college or remain in the comprehensive or grammar school for two more years to prepare for the A (advanced) level tests which help gain admittance to a university.  The students from Skins attend a technical college and, after two years, take their A levels to determine the next step in their lives – be it University, trying to get their big break on the London stage, packing up and moving to NYC, or just staying behind in Bristol to grow up and get a job.

This Project Britain website was a great help to me in clarifying the questions I had about the British education system (http://projectbritain.com/education/index.html) so take a look at it if you get the chance.

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At some point in my youth, I had heard that police officers in London carried billy clubs as their only weapon.  “What a country!”, I thought, “where even in their largest metropolis, it was considered unnecessary for law enforcement to carry firearms.”  To this day, apparently, ordinary beat officers are not usually armed or even trained in the use of such weapons, though some exceptions exist.

Detective/special agent programs abound in the UK  and they are very good at producing that genre. In fact they are so popular that PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery features them regularly.  But for the moment, I want to focus on the good old uniformed police officers and how they are portrayed in British television. 

Let’s start with the small village police officer.  They are dedicated men who take their duties seriously.  While the villagers they protect often discount their diligence, when they are needed, these brave officers come through for their friends and neighbors. 

1) Garda Ambrose Egan from Ballykissangel is a stickler when it comes to the law.  While sometimes bumbling in his personal life, he is calm and clear-headed whether he is enforcing village traffic laws or going undercover to break up a drug ring in a biker bar.

2) Doc Martin’s PCs Mylow and Penhale protect Portwenn with good intentions though their diligence can be sidetracked by scheming women in the case of the former and various medical and mental disorders in the case of the latter.  But in their minds, police work defines who they are and they are always on the lookout for law breakers.

3)  Hamish Macbeth of Lochdubh, on the other hand, is a different type of  small town police officer.  He is actually more normal than most everyone else in his village.  He keeps the peace just fine without being terribly concerned with details of the law.  And he often gives credit to others for solving crimes in order to avoid being promoted out of Lochdubh.

The Thin Blue Line follows an entire police department through their daily routines in the town of Gasforth.  As mentioned in the previous examples, Inspector Fowler (Rowan Atkinson) is dedicated to his job and performs his duties earnestly.  His subordinates are a diverse group and there is a definite rivalry between the uniformed police and CID (Criminal Investigation Department) aka plain clothes detectives.  The cocky detectives don’t always do things by the book, and in those situations, the tried and true men and women in blue triumph, if only by accident.

Hot Fuzz is a film and not a tv series, but I want to mention it anyway, because I love Simon Pegg movies and because it is a hilarious take on the work of police officers in the UK.  PC Nicholas Angel is such a perfect law enforcement officer that he is making the rest of the London force look bad.  Therefore the powers that be send him to the seemingly idyllic village of Sanford.  Once there he is mocked for being suspicious of the many accidents that are claiming villagers on a nearly daily basis.  Throw in a dash of American police buddy movie violence and the ending is like nothing you would expect from a proper British bobby. 

I have not watched any British police dramas of the Hill Street Blues variety, so I can only gather my impressions from the comedies.  Yes, these characters resemble Barney Fife at times, but I think that they are endearing jabs at a profession and the people who protect us on a daily basis.

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