CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Sandi, did you really stay at these wacky B&Bs?
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Now be honest, Sandi… did you really stay at these wacky B&Bs?
Extraordinary Escapes With Sandi Toksvig
The Disappearance Of Shannon Matthews
Swaddled in blankets, scarfs and waterproofs on a bitterly cold beach in East Anglia, plonked two metres apart on a pair of deckchairs, Alison Steadman and Sandi Toksvig want us to believe they’re having fun.
‘It’s just so lovely,’ shivers Sandi. ‘I don’t mind the weather actually,’ Alison agrees, wriggling her fingers to keep the blood flowing.
This was all about as convincing as the rest of Extraordinary Escapes (C4), which expected us to accept the two friends were on a long weekend in Suffolk, staying overnight at a variety of eccentric boarding houses.
I didn’t buy it for a minute. We saw the duo arrive at each holiday home and explore it — a converted fort on the coast, a 17th-century thatched cottage with a moat and a converted Norman priory.
This was all about as convincing as the rest of Extraordinary Escapes (C4), which expected us to accept the two friends were on a long weekend in Suffolk, staying overnight at a variety of eccentric boarding houses. Pictured: Sandi Toksvig and Alison Steadman in Extraordinary Escapes
But there was no footage of them settling down for the evening, or bustling round next day. They appeared to have one small suitcase between them.
On a real holiday, the natural topics of conversation are the banal ones: how did you sleep, was your pillow all right, what did you think of the shower? The ladies preferred to share heavily scripted chit-chat. ‘Beatrix Potter was actually an expert on mushrooms,’ remarked Sandi, clearly floundering for things to say. If they didn’t really stay in these places, why not tell us? They could just be honest, and admit they went home to their own beds at the end of the day’s filming. We could forgive that. It’s a distraction, to watch and wonder why neither of them bothered even to take their coats off indoors.
This is Sandi’s series, as she goes B&B-ing with a different female friend each week. Next time it’s actress Jessica Hynes.
But Sandi isn’t a natural interviewer: ‘You’re one of my heroes,’ she told Alison. ‘Do you think of yourself as a star?’ Even Elton John wouldn’t be likely to answer ‘Yes’ to that. Still, as a question, it was better than Sandi’s other gambit: ‘If you owned a field like this, what would you do with it?’
The destinations were well chosen. That Napoleonic watchtower had stunning views, the cottage seemed cosy and the medieval religious house was atmospheric.
I didn’t buy it for a minute. We saw the duo arrive at each holiday home and explore it — a converted fort on the coast, a 17th-century thatched cottage with a moat and a converted Norman priory. Pictured: Sandi Toksvig in Extraordinary Escapes
But the travel trivia was downright off-putting. ‘Bill Wyman stayed here,’ announced Sandi, ‘and the Arctic Monkeys.’ If that’s the best she can do, why bother? It was all rather forced and grim —though nothing like as bad as the jolly police acronyms revealed in The Disappearance Of Shannon Matthews (C5).
Yorkshire coppers don’t carry out inquiries — they do TIEs, which stands for Trace Interview Eliminate. And the database of child murders since 1960 is known as Centralised Analytical Team Collating Homicide Expertise Management, or CATCHEM. That sounds like something out of a Batman comic.
The second 90-minute episode of this two-part documentary airs tonight, though it uncovers little new in the much-told story of how venal mother Karen Matthews hid her daughter Shannon and claimed that the nine-year-old had been kidnapped.
Jeff Pope’s outstanding 2017 drama The Moorside, starring Gemma Whelan as Matthews, covered the case in more emotive detail. This account relies heavily on the memories of reporters and detectives, though there are brief contributions from Julie Bushby, the community activist who led the hunt for Shannon — played by Sheridan Smith in the drama.
True-crime shows need to offer fresh perspectives to justify their existence. If not, there’s a danger they’ll do nothing more than wallow in the sordid facts. This one had nothing new to offer.
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