Marvelous conversations

by James Cardno / 27 December, 2003

Excellent local interview show Home Truths has finally made its way into primetime. Sadly, however, it is for a special Home Truths Finale (TV3, Wednesday, 9.30pm) to cap off the season. The show, hosted by John Campbell and produced by his 3 News offsider Carol Hirschfeld, has received praise for its loose and warm - almost conversational - interviews with celebrities and movers and shakers such as Stephen Fry and Margaret Atwood.

The final episode is packed with talent - cartoonist and satirist Tom Scott, and interviews and performances from Nesian Mystik, Blindspott, Che Fu, Carly Binding and ... Russel Walder.

Russel who?

Hirschfeld explains. "John and I were MCing a pro-democracy for Burma concert at the Grey Lynn Community Centre earlier this year when we first encountered Russel. At the end of the programme, we noticed on our notes that an oboe player was to be the final act and was down to play for around 20 minutes. Being the philistines we are, we thought that this could be a rather long set. When Russel eventually played, we were dumbfounded. He is classically trained - he played Carnegie Hall when he was 17 - but on this night, he played a beautiful improvised piece, Eastern-inspired and completely appropriate as a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi [the evening's focus]. He then got the audience humming in two-part harmony and accompanied on his oboe. The music was unexpectedly rich and uplifting. Russel himself is Chicago-born and could talk the hind legs off a herd of donkeys - a really remarkable performer."

Divas and Idols

Divas - great female singers, often as temperamental as they are talented - are used to being the focal point onstage. So what happens when they double up?

Magic, actually. Divas Duets (TV3, Thursday, 8.30pm), part of US music network VH1's annual Divas concert series, unites some of the world's best chanteuses. Jewel and Beyoncé Knowles, Pat Benatar and Lisa Marie Presley, Whitney Houston and ... er ... Bobby Brown?

There are other male ring-ins (Stevie Wonder) and solo spots, too - Ashanti, in particular, turns in a show-stealing performance. Mary J Blige, Queen Latifah, Chaka Khan and Shania Twain also appear.

Meanwhile, diva wannabes from around the world have taken part in the Idol series, the talent show that it's okay to like. American Idol 1 and 2, Australian Idol, even - no, it's not a joke - Lebanese Idol. World Idol (TV2, Sunday 7,30pm; World Idol Results, TV2, Friday 8.00pm) pools the winners of nine individual shows around the world. Ruben Studdard is ineligible - only season-one winners from each country, so that means Kelly Clarkson will be the US contestant - but the Australian Idol, sponge-haired Guy Sebastian, will be flying to the UK to take part in the contest, alongside UK series winner Will Young.

The judging panel includes one representative from each country. Which means the possible reappearance of the famously acerbic Simon Cowell, criticising what he will no doubt see as the United Nations of mediocrity.

Thelma & Louise - the later years

Penelope Keith, best known for playing posh country types, and June Brown, best known as common-as-muck EastEnder Dot Cotton, join forces in Margery and Gladys (TV1, Sunday, 8.35pm). They star as a well-heeled widow and her chain-smoking charlady who catch a burglar as he is about to pinch one of Margery's vases. "Put that vase down, it's Waterford crystal!" shrieks Margery. He does and she brains him with it. Assuming that the would-be thief is dead, the two women flee in Gladys's clapped-out car. To their surprise, they manage life

on the run very well - even robbing a chemist to get insulin for Gladys.

The show's writers, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, got the idea for the show from two elderly ladies who had done runners from hotels and petrol stations all over England and were dubbed "Hell's Grannies" by the press. Flanagan and McCulloch came up with what Keith describes as a "thumping good script". She leapt at the role. Brown had to do a bit of juggling to take on the part of Gladys. She had left EastEnders, but her retirement from the soap was cut short when her boss, Louise Berridge, begged her to return. "I'm a very devious person," Brown chuckles, "I got persuaded to go back, but it meant I was free at that time and I knew that this might be coming up."

ALSO SHOWING

Two-star Michelin chef John Burton Race moves his family from a comfortable home in Oxfordshire to a ramshackle farmhouse in south-west France in French Leave (TV1, Friday, 8.05pm). Burton was happy to swap his high-pressure 14-hour-days for a more laid-back Gallic lifestyle, despite initial teething problems. "We all made lots of friends because if you are talking about food in France you can't go wrong," he says.

Another celebrated chef, Rick Rutledge-Manning, whips up a five-course gourmet lunch in a charity fund-raiser for the CureKids trust in Hero Dishes - Holiday Special (TV2, Thursday, 7.30pm). Five children, Oliver Norman, April Magrath, Neida Simeona and Michael Topia and CureKids ambassador Rebecca Dixon, who have all benefited from the CureKids programme, are responsible for one main and one dessert each. But the kids each get a little help and they also get to meet their favourite local celebrity or sports star.

Summer Camp USA (TV2, Monday, 7.30pm) follows six twentysomething Kiwis as they (along with 80 other staff) look after 270 lively and loud American children at an International Sports Training Camp in Pennsylvania. The Kiwis battle to teach rugby and cricket, ration home comforts such as Marmite, and endure taunts about their accent. Some are more enthusiastic than others: "Oh the ra-ra, I hate the ra-ra. It's like Hi-De-Hi and I'm not a yellow coat," moans one Aucklander.

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