WEB EXCLUSIVE: Our weekly web columnist on Eurovision, Springwatch and How to be an England Manager

United Kingdom's Engelbert Humperdinck performs during the final show of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest at the Baku Crystal Hall in Baku, Sunday, May 27, 2012.  (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
United Kingdom's Engelbert Humperdinck performs during the final show of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest at the Baku Crystal Hall in Baku, Sunday, May 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
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Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV:

First off, a confession, because I’m feeling pretty foolish right now.

I was among all those cynics who reckoned prior to Eurovision there was no way in the world that the UK would receive the famous “douze points”.

And boy, am I eating those words now.

For, when all was said and done at 3.20am local time in Baku’s Crystal Hall, Engelbert Humperdinck left with his mug of Ovaltine, the Russian grannies’ phone numbers and a grand total of 12 points.

Call myself an expert, eh?

The cold truth, though, is that despite Graham Norton’s insistence we finished second from bottom because the song “got lost in the melee”, it was a terrible entry, drearily staged by Arlene Phillips, which received exactly what it deserved.

So let’s draw a line under that, forget the pointless jingoism, and consider what really matters at the annual musical convention of pan-European tomfoolery – the comedy value of the songs and Norton’s commentary.

Both of which, I’m pleased to report, were sublime.

In fact, it was one of the best Eurovisions for years, if you use the correct criteria.

The best song won, and it wasn’t even from a Balkan or former Soviet state.

The three Azerbaijani presenters were suitably, jaw-lockingly smarmy, with the male among them the genetic mutation between Justin Timberlake and a startled mole.

And many of the songs were truly memorable.

I particularly enjoyed Romania’s oompah disco band with its moonwalking, bagpiping Gok Wan tribute act, Turkey’s Marvel comics formation team, Hank Marvin coming out of retirement to choreograph Malta’s band (I think), Jedward’s attempt to electrocute themselves in a water fountain, the Albanian criminal against music who looked and sounded like a French and Saunders Bjork spoof, and Serbia’s love song about “doogie poo”.

Also of note was a blindfolded Lithuanian bloke going by the name Donny Montell whose pain should have been ended by firing squad, the “whole can of crazy” of Ukraine’s entry, an Italian Amy Winehouse singing a version of Minnie The Moocher, Hungary’s one-armed chicken impersonator wringing out the microphone and opening with the lyrics: “The humpback whale issues up lace,” which he can insist are actually: “The whole big world is just one place,” until he’s blue in the face, and of course Russia’s six pie-baking babushkas, especially the little one who was last seen playing Wicket W Warrick the Ewok in Return of the Jedi, and their joyful song which doubled as a revolving-oven protest against the UK Government’s pasty tax.

And I can’t end the highlights without mentioning the eastern European announcer who declared: “Let me escalate your spirit with the first result of the Bulgarian vote,” her Swedish counterpart turning out to be a Cockney version of psychic Sally Morgan and the reappearance of Finland’s Lordi of the Rings of whom Norton said: “He’s got to wake up tomorrow morning and remember he did that.”

In fact, our Graham had a great night, following a poor performance at the 2011 contest.

Crucially, he remembered that Wogan’s brilliance lay in him unashamedly taking the Mickey out of Johnny Foreigner.

So Norton accused the suited and booted Cypriot announcer of being a cheap-watch salesman, Ukraine’s singer as a “woman you would cross the street on holiday to avoid” and, introducing the Irish twins, he said: “A distinguishing feature in this year’s Eurovision is that there are a lot of strong singers. Now, to disprove my point...”

There have, naturally, been calls for the UK to withdraw from Eurovision.

Do that and the BBC will be left with nothing but the self-important worthiness of shows like The Voice, so no thanks.

Eurovision is one of the few agenda-free, politically incorrect shows it has left.

Instead, next year we should play Europe at its own game.

So, following Russia’s example, I’ve got an idea for who we send to Stockholm.

It has to be Britain’s Got Talent’s rapping OAPs, The Zimmers.

I only hope they can bake.


Consumer champion Dom Littlewood discovered on Channel 5’s War Hero In My Family that his grandfather was a Japanese PoW for three-and-a-half years in the Thai jungle during World War II, enduring horrific brutality, beatings from the guards and near starvation.

But knowing Dom, he’ll probably try to exchange him for a better war hero.


Monday, BBC1, 7.30pm, How To Beat Pain.

Monday, BBC1, 8pm, EastEnders, turn the TV off.

That’s how.


Words of wisdom for Roy Hodgson from all quarters on BBC3’s How To Be England Manager.

Alan Davies: “You need to be intelligent.”

Mark Palios: “He’s got to be astute.”

Colin Murray: “You’ve got to be brave.”

Al Murray: “You can’t have Graham Taylor.”

But these were merely handy tips compared with the post-match interviews on ITV1’s Soccer Aid, a hugely enjoyable four-and-a-quarter hours whose best moments were Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno’s exquisite chip over David Seaman, Ashton from JLS turning out to be the answer to England’s fruitless 30-year search for a decent left-winger, Ben Shepherd leaving Gordon Ramsay in a crumpled heap and Teddy Sheringham leaving Gordon Ramsay on a stretcher.

But it was triumphant England coach Big Sam Allardyce who delivered the biggest surprise when Dermot O’Leary asked what he’d said to the team at half time to overturn a 1-0 deficit: “We put Ben Shepherd to man-mark Clarence Seedorf. That was the difference for us.”

Take heed, Roy Hodgson.


Daybreak’s Hollywood news regurgitator Ross King revealed that, for the christening of the Beckhams’ youngest child, Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria “will be Harper Seven’s grandmother”.

First time that man’s ever had an exclusive.


The rain stops, the sun comes out and summer’s here at last.

So it must be time for Springwatch on BBC2, live from the Ynis-hir nature reserve in mid-Wales, where we’ve seen a vast array of wildlife on display.

Ospreys, blue tits, sandpipers, kingfishers, woodpeckers, barn owls, chaffinches, wood warblers, nuthatches...

In fact all sorts of birds, really. And a mouse.

But no wrens. They upped and flew the nest on day one.

There were, on the other hand, thousands of midges eating Chris Packham and the crew alive.

And on Wednesday, the rarest of sights – a Network Rail train which showed up on time three minutes before the end of the programme.

Not everything’s going according to plan, as is the way with live television.

A cameraman accidentally walked into shot, the director’s instructions to the presenters could be heard over a film about kingfishers, and Michaela Strachan found herself saying: “Both blue tits and chaffinches are guards you regularly see in your burden.”

And indeed birds you see in your garden.

The wildlife itself has been, shall we say, elusive.

Packham: “Hanging down from the oak tree there is a monstrous bird feeder. And if we can go to it live now... there is absolutely nothing there.”

Strachan: “This is the grass mound and in here we have lots of snakes. There’s nothing there at the moment.”

Packham again: “Let’s take a look live at our wood warbler. We can’t see them terribly well.”

But there’s no getting away from the fact that we saw more live wild animals in the first two minutes of Springwatch than in the entire three weeks of Planet Earth Live.

It may be only one Terry Nutkins away from a Really Wild Show reunion, but unlike Richard Hammond pointing at vague shapes in the Kenyan black of night, this show knows its limits and doesn’t try to overegg the pudding, which is its real charm.

Cameraman Alastair MacEwan’s macro photography is extraordinary and Packham regularly hits the mark with lines like: “In our mammal stump we’ve got a wood mouse and a vole. It’s all kicking off.”

The one feature I’d change, though, is the game of “absolutely” tennis between the presenters.

“The fox cubs are absolutely fantastic.” “This research on whiskers is absolutely fantastic.” “The chaffinches are absolutely gorgeous.” “The wood warbler is absolutely lovely.” “The barn owls are absolutely gorgeous.”

And: “Look at the lamprey’s mouth. Absolutely fearsome isn’t it?”



Schedule clash of the week. Sky LivingIt’s dating show The Love Machine / The Meat Market, on BBC2.


Alistair McGowan has his own ITV1 Saturday night primetime impressions show?

You Cannot Be Serious.


More across-the-spectrum medical advice on Embarrassing Bodies: Live From The Clinic, which this week included:

Dawn Harper: “Have a chat with your GP,” to warty hand Dave.

Christian Jessen: “You can get strong acne medication via your GP,” to blotchy breasts Karen.

Harper: “You need an operation,” to man-boobs Haydn.

James Russell: “You shouldn’t be superglueing your teeth in. You need to see a dentist,” to superglue-toothed Scott (or failing that, the customer service desk at B&Q).

But the episode was primarily an excrement special (isn’t it always?) with a gallery of a dozen viewers’ stools displayed on a giant screen for the dinner-eating nation to admire, one of which was produced by a Spanish woman named Rosa Maria who provided the most colourful description of the year: “It took me an hour and a half and it was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. It was worse than having a baby elephant.”

The advice from Dawn Harper?

“The first thing you need to do is to see your GP.”

And maybe a zoologist.


This week’s one and only Couch Potato Spuduhate award goes to the British public for voting off the two best singers on The Voice before last night’s final.

I hope it’s because the viewers genuinely preferred the lesser talents of Holiday Park Leanne and Amy Winehouse’s best friend Tyler (have they mentioned that fact at all?).

And not because of the colour of their skin.



Back now to the Baftas where it appeared nobody had bothered to show up at rehearsals on an evening of awkward silences, technical glitches, a woeful script and bizarre decisions by the academy.

On the plus side, the awards to ITV1 Fred West drama Appropriate Adult, Andrew Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty) as best supporting actor and BBC3’s Our War documentary were almost as welcome as the look of dejection on sore loser Jack Whitehall’s face when Fresh Meat was beaten to best sitcom by Mrs Brown’s Boys.

But any night that honours Keith Lemon with a gong from TOWIE’s Harry Derbidge can’t be right.

Other notable gripes were: the soap and continuing drama category having a winner, BBC News channel’s red-carpet anchorwoman claiming the “star of the show” of Sky1’s Karl Pilkington travelogue An Idiot Abroad is Ricky Gervais, the nation’s continuing love affair with the most overrated show on British television Absolutely Fabulous, and actor Sam Claflin’s refusal to even try to pronounce the names of the producers and writers of Danish crime drama Borgen during their moment of triumph in the International category, which is ironic because I don’t know how to pronounce “Claflin”.

Far worse was Dominic West’s acceptance speech for best actor as Fred West: “I hope Janet Leach, the Appropriate Adult in the title, has had some closure to the pain she suffered as a result of the case and that we honoured the suffering of all the Wests’ victims, living or dead. I would also like to thank my agent.”

Yes, Dominic. I can think of no greater honour.


Only four remain for the final of the eighth best series of The Apprentice, where Nick, Jade, Tom and Ricky Martin face the brilliantly brutal interviews.

So I hope I’m not spoiling it by revealing who’s the star of tonight’s show.

Margaret Mountford.


Alexandra Burke plugged her new album on Tuesday’s Loose Women, disappearing up her own backside in the process:

“I took a year-and-a-half out to make this album and during that time I went through a lot, and my biggest fear in life is being open, and I thought the least I could do for my fans is give them something I had never given before if I want them to grow with me as an artist and as a person, so I had to really open my heart on this album and face that fear, and of course we’re only human and we have to protect our hearts, but when you unzip your heart you make yourself quite vulnerable, and I wanted it to turn any negative into a positive, and I honestly feel like my life is going too fast and ...”

Jane McDonald: “Oh my God. Write a book.”


A big day this Tuesday with all that Diamond Jubilee coverage on the telly, the launch of Big Brother and a new Sky Living reality series about Katie Price.

So you’ll hopefully understand that I’m avoiding all of the above like a Union Jack-themed commemorative tea towel and taking the week off.

Column returns in a fortnight.