CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Great BBC gags

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Great gags but you need a BBC history degree to get them all

The Love Box In The Living Room 

Rating: ****

Lost Worlds With Ben Fogle 

Rating: ****

Like a pre-war copy of Punch, Harry Enfield is brimming with brilliantly witty satire about things that almost nobody remembers.

A degree in the history of the BBC was required to have any chance of understanding even half the gags in his one-off sketch show with Paul Whitehouse, The Love Box In The Living Room (BBC2).

Harry took aim at 1930s Prime Ministers Stanley Baldrick and Ronald McDonald. Full marks if your brain automatically translated those political puns about Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald.

Like a pre-war copy of Punch, Harry Enfield is brimming with brilliantly witty satire about things that almost nobody remembers

You’d have to be a certain age to recognise the theme tune to Captain Pugwash, which accompanied a cartoon about Ted Heath, and to remember Yogi Bear, the inventor of television according to Harry (his wordplay on John Logie Baird).

Other up-to-the-minute jokes mocked 1970s low-budget sci-fi serial Blake’s 7 and 1980s soap opera Howards’ Way, ‘even more glamorous than Dallas’.

Perhaps all those digs at Play For Today, Muffin The Mule and Dixon Of Dock Green were camouflage for a couple of spoofs that cut much closer to the knuckle, mocking the Beeb’s diversity drive.

‘The more inclusive the BBC became,’ Harry intoned, ‘the more it worried it wasn’t being inclusive enough. It had seen what happened to J.K. Rowling…’

This explained, he said, the corporation’s enthusiasm for Ru Paul’s Drag Race, a blatant bit of political correctness by BBC execs desperate to be on the ‘right side of history’… whichever side that was.

Harry and Paul demonstrated a genius for impressions of beloved characters, from Captain Mainwaring to Uncle Albert

Some of the one-liners would be funny in any era. I snorted with laughter at the dalek who, during a break in filming, croaked at the director: ‘Have-I-Got-Time-To-Pop-Out-For-A-Fag?’

And you didn’t need to be a fan of Peaky Blinders or Downton Abbey to enjoy the skit where the Shelby brothers burst into the drawing room and beat seven bells out of Carson the butler.

Dangerous taxi of the night: 

I suppose it’s no more stupid than any other bit of the dire gameshow for couples, Unbreakable (BBC1) — but why did losing duo Shanaze and Teddy have to ride on the boot of an open-top sports car as they left? Not safe, not legal, not a smart look. 

Others demanded TV knowledge that was positively arcane — including a comparison of the differing interview styles of Robin Day and Brian Walden.

Harry and Paul demonstrated a genius for impressions of beloved characters, from Captain Mainwaring to Uncle Albert. 

They must have known how obscure some of the references were, though, because the last two minutes comprised a crib sheet of clips from the shows they mocked. 

I think I spotted about 70 per cent of them. Is that enough to pass?

Ben Fogle’s foray into history on Lost Worlds (C5) took darker turns, as he explored the derelict heart of Detroit. 

With an urban explorer named Bob, he climbed through windows in abandoned houses to sift through the detritus left behind when families moved out, and broke into Cooley High — one of dozens of disused schools, now being looted for their scrap metal.

A retired police officer named Kerry took him on a tour of burned-out buildings. 

A tradition of arson has sprung up in Detroit: once a year, on Devil’s Night (October 30), mobs set fire to hundreds of properties.

This marked a new stage in Ben’s growing obsession with America’s lawless, poverty-stricken edgelands. 

Ben Fogle’s foray into history on Lost Worlds (C5) took darker turns, as he explored the derelict heart of Detroit

 A tradition of arson has sprung up in Detroit: once a year, on Devil’s Night (October 30), mobs set fire to hundreds of properties

In Detroit, he was warned to assume everyone he saw was armed. Pictured here in Detroit Opera House

In Detroit, he was warned to assume everyone he saw was armed. It’s a far cry from his days as a castaway on an idyllic Hebridean island.

He met one woman, community worker Mama Shu, whose two sons and her stepson had all been killed. ‘I just got to keep it moving,’ she said, when Ben asked how she was able to carry on. ‘I don’t have anything to lose.’

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