ON the face of it, a comedy about a group of very unlikely lads running a pirate radio station in Brentford, west London, sounds as though it might not be the average middle-aged woman’s Americano (your previewer being the MAW in question). I mean, drum and bass, garage music, Brentford, tracky bottoms and baseball caps?
But funny is funny. Essentially, that’s the only explanation required to understand the success of the mockumentary at the centre of Kurupting the Industry: The People Just Do Nothing Story (BBC1, Wednesday, 10.35pm). Outstanding comedy crosses divides and spans the age range, taking the viewer where they did not know they wanted to go.
People Just Do Nothing started life as a series of skits on YouTube. Word of mouth brought it to the attention of production companies, including Roughcuts TV, founded by Ash Atalla (The Office). An initial run on BBC Three led to promotion to BBC2 and five series followed. Along the way the show picked up a Bafta for best scripted comedy, beating Fleabag in the process. To (baseball) cap it all there is now a film, People Do Nothing: Big in Japan, out in cinemas from August 18. Pretty good going for a bunch of lads having a lark.
Atalla is among the talking heads here, alongside superfan and actor Martin Freeman, and the singer-songwriter Craig David. We hear from the cast, including Hugo Chegwin (Beats), Allan Mustafa (Grindah), Asim Chaudhry (Chabaddy G) and Lily Brazier, who plays everyone’s favourite Brentford hair stylist, Miche.
It is a solid introduction to the show and funny in its own right. If matters take a turn for the luvvie towards the end the sentiments come from the right place. As Freeman says, People Just Do Nothing would not have rung so true, or been such a hit, had it been made by someone from RADA. This was no Cambridge footlights kind of comedy. It belongs, says Atalla, in the category of “Nothing about us, without us”. In other words, it is made by the people it depicts. After watching this you can see for yourself: all five series are on iPlayer.
Funny guy, that Ian Hislop. The editor of Private Eye and team captain on Have I Got News for You tries his hand at a railway gag when he presents Ian Hislop’s Trains that Changed the World, (Channel 5, Friday, 9pm). “Flying Scotsman was so fast there wasn’t even time to put the word ‘the’ in front of it,” he says. It probably has trainspotters in fits of giggles.
The first in a four part series cracks along at a fair old pace in its own right. The story begins with the Victorians, the march of heavy industry and war. By the 1920s competition between the various train operators to run the fastest services was intense. LNER’s Flying Scotsman was a game changer, cutting the journey time from London to Edinburgh to just over eight hours, with the steam locomotive reaching a record speed of 100mph.
With the help of a carriage-worth of historians and other rail experts, and reams of archive footage, Hislop takes the story on through the introduction of the Intercity 125 to Japan’s bullet trains, and on to France’s TGV and the Eurostar (there’s a marvellous clip of the moment the French end of tunnel met the UK end, the engineers reaching through the gap to shake hands. How cordiale it all looks).
The early high speed trains, impressive as they were, look like relative slow coaches compared to the fastest trains in operation today. Where? In China, of course. The Beijing-Shanghai service runs at more than double the speed of Flying Scotsman’s 100mph.
Hislop keeps the tone brisk, jolly, and informative. Come the end you might be joining the experts in saluting a mode of transport once dismissed as old-fashioned, dirty and energy-hungry. Clean, green, and super-fast, no wonder increasing numbers of passengers prefer, as the old ad said, to let the train take the strain.
Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy will find themselves right at home with The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family (BBC2, Friday, 9pm). Between this three-parter, the recent Anne Boleyn on Channel 5, and the BBC drama of 2015, the market for Tudor intrigue is as buoyant as ever.
Using dramatic reconstruction and interviews with historians, the story of this one family and their lust for power and position is a gripping yarn, even if it does proceed at a stately pace at times. The historians are particularly good value, each one more enthusiastic than the last.
By the end of the first instalment, Anne’s star is in the ascendant, and her battle with Cardinal Wolsey hotting up. All this and that man “Cremuel” has yet to take centre stage.