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BBC2 Autumn / Winter 2010 / 11


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BBC Two reaches for the stars with an ambitious new season

A wide range of ambitious factual programmes, distinctive series and single dramas, and innovative new comedy offers stimulating, entertaining and rewarding television across all genres on BBC Two this autumn and winter 2010/11.

Highlights include:

# The return of Brian Cox in a major new series, Wonders Of The Universe, and a Stargazing event exploring the skies live on-air over three nights.

# A season of programmes looking at our schools, the choices parents have to make and whether we could do better?

# A season on troubled families, including a very personal documentary by Neil Morrissey, who was taken into care at the age of ten.

# A big focus on history with new programmes and new presenters, including Ancient Worlds with Richard Miles, Pompeii with Mary Beard, Behind Closed Doors with Amanda Vickery, The Do-Gooders with Ian Hislop and programming to mark the Battle of Britain's 70th anniversary, with a drama-documentary based on Geoffrey Wellum's best-selling book, First Light.

# A focus on literature in the new year with Sebastian Faulks celebrating the novel in Faulks On Fiction.

# New drama including When Harvey Met Bob, which tells the story behind the Live Aid event, Christopher And His Kind starring Matt Smith and literary adaptation The Crimson Petal And The White.

# New and innovative comedy, including: The Stephen K Amos Show, The Rob Brydon Show, The Trip starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Episodes starring Matt LeBlanc, Whites starring Alan Davies, plus the return of Miranda and Harry And Paul.

# And new formats, including James May's Man Lab, How TV Ruined Your Life with Charlie Brooker, Michel Roux's Service, A Dream Life In The Country and Giles And Sue Live The Good Life.

Says Janice Hadlow, Controller of BBC Two: "This new season reflects BBC Two at its most ambitious and distinctive, bearing the early fruits of the extra investment in drama and offering viewers some fantastic new mainstream comedies alongside the greatest range of factual programming on TV.

"This autumn and winter, viewers can enjoy some big moments created around issues that matter, from schooling to live stargazing events; a focus on history in the autumn and then on literature in the winter; and programmes that reflect the contemporary world with moving human stories, like Neil Morrissey on childcare. We've also got lots of exciting new factual formats, including Michel Roux’s Service, Giles And Sue Live The Good Life and James May's Man Lab. Plus, I’m delighted to say that we have a fantastic range of inspiring, authoritative and entertaining talent on the channel in the worlds of fact and fiction."

The greatest range of factual programmes

As millions of children return to school after the summer break, BBC Two launches a timely season on Education, focusing on our schools, the tough choices parents have to make and whether we could all do better. In Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School For Boys, Gareth becomes a primary school teacher for a term with the mission to re-engage boys who don't like school and who lag behind their female peers. Documentaries in this season include: an exclusive look inside a boarding school through the eyes of three of Britain’s Youngest Boarders; John Humphrys examining why the education system is failing so many children, in Mind The Gap; education expert Dylan Wiliam setting up an experimental secondary school class to test some of the most innovative ideas for education in The Classroom Experiment; and Catchment, following a year-in-the-life of children, parents, schools and the Birmingham Education Authority as they go through the fraught application process for secondary schools. There's also a drama, Permanently Excluded, telling the moving story of a newly-qualified teacher and his relationship with a difficult boy, and the television premieres of BBC Films' Notes On A Scandal, starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, as well as Alan Bennett's critically acclaimed The History Boys.

BBC Two's Troubled Families Season explores the subject of caring for children and families who have been through tough times. Actor Neil Morrissey was just 10-years-old when he was sent into care, separated from his brother Stephen who was sent to another children’s home. In Neil Morrissey – Care Home Kid, he hopes to discover why he was taken away from his family and to understand the impact that living in care had on him and his friends. Other documentaries include Families In Care, which follows the families who turn up at Save The Family's purpose built village near Chester, in a last ditch attempt to turn their lives around and prevent the family from being split up.

Literature is a big theme for BBC Two and BBC Four in the new year. On BBC Two there will be a major series with best-selling novelist Sebastian Faulks. Faulks On Fiction looks at the history of the novel through its characters – the hero, the lover, the snob and the villain. There's a Culture Show Special – The Books We Really Read, in which Sue Perkins seeks to discover the essential ingredients of a bestseller, and the channel will be premiering two BBC Films, The Edge Of Love, a portrait of Dylan Thomas and the women in his life and Brideshead Revisited based on Evelyn Waugh's novel.

If the beginning of the year was about science on the channel, now the focus moves on to history with a wealth of programmes and new faces.

In a new series, Behind Closed Doors, historian Amanda Vickery goes behind the stately exterior of the Georgian house to reveal the secret emotional life of the home in stories of love and marriage, husbands and wives, furniture and wallpaper. In Pompeii, Cambridge Professor of Classics Mary Beard presents a fascinating insight into the people who lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius before its cataclysmic eruption in 79AD. Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles takes a six-part odyssey through Ancient Worlds to tell the story of civilisation – in all its complexities –which shaped the western world.

There are also some familiar faces tackling new subjects. In The Do-Gooders, Ian Hislop looks at some of the great social reformers of the Victorian world and asks what people in the 21st century can learn from their achievement. Neil Oliver embarks on an epic quest through the earliest years of the history of these islands to tell the story of how Britain and its people came to be. In this returning series, The History Of Ancient Britain – Part I examines the period of the Ice Age through to the Bronze Age.

Also on a big scale, in September the channel joins a pan-BBC celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, with programmes including First Light, a drama-documentary based on Geoffrey Wellum's best-selling book, which tells the extraordinary story of his experience as a 19-year-old pilot, one of the youngest to participate in the battle.

In The Bible's Buried Secrets, Hebrew scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou looks at what recent archaeological discoveries mean for the Bible and how they are forcing a re-assessment of the understanding of the legacy of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Plus, following the hugely successful Victorian Farm, archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, and domestic historian Ruth Goodman return to BBC Two to experience life on an Edwardian Farm.

Science still has a prominent presence on the channel, with the return of BBC Two's popular professor, Brian Cox. He presents an epic new series about the Wonders Of The Universe, which sees him visit some of the most dramatic parts of the globe to explain the fundamental principles that govern the laws of nature. And he presents a TV first during one of the most exciting weeks of the astronomical calendar, exploring the skies live on air for a special Stargazing event, encouraging the audience to set off on their own journey of discovery.

This sense of adventure and curiosity can be seen throughout the schedule. Space Dive follows one man's record breaking attempt to break the sound barrier in free-fall. Bruce Parry returns with a new series set in the spectacular wilderness of the Arctic to explore the dramatic changes its people are experiencing in Arctic With Bruce Parry. Professor Iain Stewart tells the story of how Scotland's landscape has revealed to the world how our planet works, in Men Of Rock. David Attenborough presents First Life, going back in time to the very roots of the tree of life, in search of the very first animals. He also narrates a magnificent insight into the extraordinary wildlife and the dramatic landscapes of Wild Madagascar.

Meanwhile, BBC Two's observational documentary series Wonderland returns with more films seeking out people and places that offer a glimpse of a modern Britain, including a film about Britain's leading all-boys cheerleading team from a south Leeds estate, as they prepare for the National Championships where they hope to be the first boys' team to lift the trophy.

Along with the focus on literature, the channel will continue to celebrate the arts through its regular strands and major series. Marking Hollywood's 100th anniversary, Paul Merton travels to America to explore how the language of cinema was laid down in the age of silent film in Paul Merton's Birth Of Hollywood. Music highlights include: The Goldie Project, which sees jungle and drum n bass star Goldie explore the transformative power of music in young people's lives; the Radio 2 Electric Proms, dedicated to creating new moments in music; and the focus on opera also continues with Verdi - The Director's Cut, tracing the production of Aida on the floating stage at Bregenz and the Birmingham Opera Company’s Othello.

New current affairs series include: Andrew Marr exploring John F Kennedy's time in office as the 50th anniversary of his election approaches, in JFK – The Making Of Modern Politics; the true story of Iraq since the invasion is told from an insiders' perspective in Secret Iraq, visiting some of the most troubled spots in Iraq and gathering memories and eyewitness testimonies of key Iraqi insurgents, as well as filming with soldiers, spies and politicians from both sides of the Atlantic; Kirsty Young follows up her successful series on the British family with an exploration of another major strand of British life in The British At Work; and the return of BBC Two's international current affairs strand, This World, including the inside story of the kidnapping and incarceration of Ingrid Betancourt.

Finally, spanning the whole spectrum of factual, BBC Two introduces some new factual formats reflecting contemporary life in an entertaining and stimulating way. We discover that there’s more to Michel Roux than good food as he takes on a personal mission to train eight novice young people to become front-of-house waiters and sommeliers, believing that good service is the key to a good meal in Michel Roux's Service. Thirty-five years after The Good Life, Sue Perkins and Giles Coren step back in time to 1975 to try their hand at becoming self-sufficient, hoping to live the good life. Jimmy Doherty presents A Dream Life In The Country, in which nine couples who dream of living off the land find out exactly what it takes to run a successful farm with one of them potentially winning their own small holding for a year. Qualified chef, baker, patissier and former model, Lorraine Pascale, joins BBC Two’s roster of expert chefs to pass her tips on for Baking Made Easy. Alan Titchmarsh takes a personal journey through the gardens that he passionately believes have most influenced our gardening heritage in Alan’s Garden Secrets and joins HRH the Prince of Wales for the first ever in-depth exploration of the vision, spirit and passion embedded in Highgrove, in Alan At Highgrove.

Distinctive Drama

There is a new emphasis on drama this season, reflecting extra investment and the aims of the Strategic Review.

Matt Smith (Doctor Who) takes on a very different role to play young writer Christopher Isherwood, as he sets out on a process of self-discovery in the politically unstable world of Thirties Berlin with its thriving gay subculture, in a one-off drama written by acclaimed playwright Kevin Elyot, Christopher And His Kind.

Other single plays this Autumn/Winter include When Harvey Met Bob, telling the story of Bob Geldof and Harvey Goldsmith's roller-coaster ride to put on the Live Aid event in October 1984. Often hilarious and ultimately deeply moving, the drama stars Domhnall Gleeson as Geldof and Ian Hart as Goldsmith. The Song Of Lunch is a dramatisation of award-wining poet Christopher Reid’s witty and poignant poem about a couple's ill-fated reunion in a Soho restaurant, starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson and transmitting around National Poetry Day. Morecambe And Wise is about the earliest days of one of the best comedy double acts of all time, starring Victoria Wood as Morecambe's mother Sadie and written by Peter Bowker (Desperate Romantics, Occupation). BBC Two also hosts the UK premiere of The Special Relationship, Peter Morgan's third film to examine the history of Tony Blair, starring Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis as the Clintons and Michael Sheen and Helen McCrory as the Blairs.

The Crimson Petal And The White is a bold and original serial for BBC Two, adapted from Michel Faber's international best-selling novel. It tells the story of a young prostitute and prominent businessman who embark on a dangerous relationship, set against the true underbelly of Victorian underground life.

Laconia is a two-part drama telling the true story of heroism shown by ordinary people in the face of extraordinary adversity, marking a return to the BBC for acclaimed writer Alan Bleasdale. The story centres around the Second World War armed British vessel RMS Laconia, which was torpedoed and sunk before the German U-boat commander had a change of heart and came back to rescue survivors.

Clever Comedy and Entertainment

There's lots of new mainstream comedy on the channel this autumn and winter. Stephen K Amos launches his first show, blending stand-up, audience participation, sketches and comedy characters – The Stephen K Amos Show.

In a brand new comedy, Whites, Alan Davies stars as Roland White, a fantastic chef who is a little past his sell-by-date. Matt LeBlanc plays a larger-than-life version of himself in Episodes, a comedy set in London and Los Angeles about a happily married English couple (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) whose hit TV show is remade by an American TV network. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take an improvised tour of the north of England to review restaurants, in The Trip. The story is fictional but based around their real personas. Also, Rob Brydon hosts his own show on BBC Two, with stand up comedy and a guest comedian each week in The Rob Brydon Show.

Plus, the talented and award-winning Miranda is back for a second series and Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse bring their award-winning sketch show, Harry And Paul, to the channel.

Award-winning comedy thriller Psychoville also returns for an hour-long gothic special to mark the scariest night of the year, written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Filled with tales to chill the bones, the Halloween Special weaves a cliff-hanging story of intrigue, mystery and weirdoes and will be followed by a second series in spring 2011.

James May's Man Lab is an innovative new entertainment format that sets James May on a mission to restore the meaning of modern manhood. Along with a team of today's similarly confused modern men, he embarks on a course of tests and surprises designed to give back to men the confidence and expertise their forefathers once possessed. They'll learn, for example, how to woo a lady or how to defuse a bomb.

Finally, in How TV Ruined Your Life, Charlie Brooker explores a different universal theme each week to try to explain where it all went wrong and just how wildly the TV and movie ideal differs from life's grim reality.

More info and a showreel at the link at the top of the post.

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Award-winning comedy thriller Psychoville also returns for an hour-long gothic special to mark the scariest night of the year, written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Filled with tales to chill the bones, the Halloween Special weaves a cliff-hanging story of intrigue, mystery and weirdoes and will be followed by a second series in spring 2011.


I was hoping there would be some sort of new ghostly Christmas drama or a new adaptation of an M.R. James story though. :(

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Sounds good. My only criticism is that too much of the BBC's output seems to rely on 'big names'.

I see they've finally promoted Brooker to BBC2. Slightly worrying because the only format that's really suited him is Screenwipe/Newswipe.

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  • 3 months later...

It's no secret that I love a good ghost story, especially if it is M.R. James and it is at Christmas time.

From the BBC website -

John Hurt, stars as James Parkin, in Whistle And I'll Come To You, the story of a man's encounter with an apparition on a desolate British beach and how this haunting begins to hound him.

Whistle And I'll Come To You, written by Neil Cross is a modern adaptation of the evocative Edwardian ghost story Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad by M R James, which delves into themes of ageing, hubris and the supernatural, adding a terrifying psychological twist in the tale.

Directed by Andy de Emmony, the one off drama will be a cinematic, moody, poignant and unsettling spooky addition to the Christmas schedules, taking its lead from L'Orfanto, The Shining and Japanese horror movies.

Gemma Jones and Lesley Sharp will also star.

Very happy about another television adaptation of an M.R. James classic. Worried about the modern adaptation bit though.

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  • 3 weeks later...

According to the Radio Times they've replaced the whistle in Whistle and I'll Come to You with a ring. The trailer looks as atmospheric as an episode of Doctors.


Why? I mean really. WHY? If you replace the whistle with a ring doesn't it render the entire title of the story fucking meaningless? I despair...

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I think that, no matter how good it may be (whistle or no), it'll never manage to surpass the original adaptation. Despite the aceness of John Hurt, Michael Horden is inextricably linked to the story for me now. It's like Tom Baker's Doctor; no matter how good the successors may be, he'll always be the proper one.

Still, can't miss a Christmas ghost story, and it surely can't be worse than last years disappointing adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.

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When was the last decent new Christmas ghost story? I'm struggling to think of one, even Gatiss' Crooked House was poor.

I quite liked A View From a Hill, but that was back in 2005.

2006 was Number 13 which was a somewhat disappointing.

2007, was just repeats of earlier Christmas ghost stories IIRC.

2008 was Crooked House, which I enjoyed, although I seem to be in a minority there.

2009 was the lacklustre The Turn of the Screw.

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Think I've posted this elsewhere before, but it's worth a repost. The original BBC production of Whistle... is still up on YouTube for anyone who wants to watch. If you've not seen it before I strongly recommend switching the lights off and sticking the headphones in (there's some great sound work in it which is pretty effective...)




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