On TV, March 5-11: including Country Calendar and Kolkata with Sue Perkins

by Fiona Rae / 03 March, 2016
Five farming families reveal how rural life has changed in the 50 years since the start of Country Calendar.
Images from Country Calendar: 50 Golden Years.
Country Calendar: 50 Golden Years.

SATURDAY MARCH 5


In today’s fast-moving tele­vision landscape, it’s almost inconceivable that a series that isn’t a gameshow could last half a century, but Country Calendar: 50 Golden Years (TV1, Saturday, 7.00pm) is proof positive that stories well told will always be popular.

In fact, this hour-long special that kicks off the new season is not going to be the usual highlights reel – it’s a profile of five farming families who have appeared in the past, chosen from the wealth of archive footage that exists from 50 years of filming rural New Zealand.

“We’ve picked people who are still on the same land,” says producer Julian O’Brien. “We’re using the old footage, a lot of it black and white, to see what’s happening on the land now and what has changed – and what hasn’t changed – over two generations, really.”

LS1016_66_SUP_The-Listener-April-4th-1987Our longest-running TV series began in 1966 as a kind of news show for farmers, presented by the pipe-smoking Fred Barnes. O’Brien can only guess at the number of programmes that have been made, “at least 1200, probably 1250”. He began working on Country Calendar in 1985, had a break, then came back as producer in 2005.

It’s the variety of rural activity that has changed over the years, says O’Brien. In the early days of Country Calendar, it was all sheep and beef, “and dairying was the poor cousin”. Even though sheep and beef remain the biggest land use, O’Brien has seen dairying and horticulture boom.

“Grapes have expanded like crazy and a lot of other crops, like onions and pumpkins, less sexy ones that people don’t think about that much, have become quite major industries.”

O’Brien thinks there is some truth in the idea that townies are getting a vicarious connection to the rural sector via Country Calendar, but he would also like to think the show’s popularity is because it is “just damn good”.

“We tend to use a lot of what I call craft, traditional ways of doing things adapted to new technology. We’re trying to create almost a ­feeling of artlessness.”

Country Calendar is this year going to feel the loss of former producer Frank Torley, who narrated his last episode in October. Torley has developed nodules on his vocal cords and the only treatment is rest. His legacy is the way he did things, says O’Brien.

“He never takes himself too seriously, but he does a good job. He has created a style and a way of doing things over 25 years that we want to preserve.”

Father Brown (Prime, 7.30pm). Originally developed for daytime TV in the UK, Father Brown does perfectly well as evening entertainment in a nostalgic, Miss Marple-like way. The series is based on GK Chesterton’s turn-of-the-century parish priest and amateur sleuth, but is set in the much more visually appealing 1950s. Mark Williams (Harry Potter’s Arthur Weasley) plays the good Father of the picture-postcard village of Kembleford (really Blockley in Gloucestershire); Hugo Speer is the frustrated police inspector, gazumped by the priest’s unorthodox methods.

SUNDAY MARCH 6


Si & Gary’s Now That’s Funny! (TV3, 7.00pm). Two dinosaurs host a TV show. That is funny. In the tradition of America’s Cheapest – sorry – Funniest Home Videos, Simon Barnett and Gary McCormick present stuff off the internet. The show for when you’re too lazy to go on YouTube.

Adventure Time, Monday.
Adventure Time, Monday.

MONDAY MARCH 7


Adventure Time (Cartoon Network, Sky 102, 6.30pm weekdays). The weirdest kids’ cartoon since The Ren & Stimpy Show is also the winner of four Emmys and a Peabody. Finn the Human and his best friend, a shape-shifting dog called Jake, live in the Land of Ooo where they have adventures featuring Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King and Marceline the Vampire Queen. “The show’s just getting weirder and, I think, more interesting to watch,” creator Pendleton Ward told the Guardian in 2012, and that means season seven, which begins today, will be very strange indeed.

The Bachelor NZ (TV3, 7.30pm today and Tuesday). Oh Lord, even The Block NZ would have been preferable. A new series of the brain-dead antediluvian nonsense that only exists so that Scout will have something to write about. It’s 2016, people! What on earth is wrong with you?

The Secret Life of Books (Sky Arts, Sky 020, 8.30pm). It’s always good to have a tour guide, and this BBC Four series features some interesting pairings as a way into classic literature. Tony Jordan (Hustle, Life on Mars) turns his screenwriter’s eye on Great Expectations, finding that Dickens’ characterisations and cliffhangers make him a godfather to television ­writers everywhere; actor Simon Russell Beale investigates Shakespeare’s First Folio; and writer Alexandra Harris looks at how Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway reimagined what a novel was. The others in the series are The Mabinogion with Cerys Matthews, Jane Eyre with Bidisha and Frankenstein with Alice Roberts.

Secrets of Great British Castles (Choice TV, 9.30pm). A six-part series presented by hipster historian Dan Jones who, despite being a mere child in his thirties, has already written several respected books. Here, he explores the history of six of Britain’s most famous castles: Dover, the Tower of London, Warwick, Caernarfon in Wales, Stirling in Scotland and Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. In the first episode, he explains how Henry II ordered the construction of Dover Castle, the largest in England, not only as a statement of royal power, but also out of guilt for the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. Meanwhile, gardener Monty Don also seems concerned with uncovering hitherto unknown information – he’s exploring The Secret History of the British Garden (Living, Sky 017, Saturday, 4.55pm) from the 17th century to today.

Kolkata with Sue Perkins, Thursday.
Kolkata with Sue Perkins, Thursday.

THURSDAY MARCH 10


Golf (Sky Sport 4, Sky 054, 3.00pm). Really not a good walk spoilt because the stunning beauty of both the Hills and Millbrook Resort golf courses near Queenstown cannot be diminished by any number of blokes with sticks. The New Zealand Open starts today and this year welcomes 15 players from the Japan tour, including No 2 Yusaku Miyazato. Also in the line-up are two-time US PGA Tour winner Daniel Chopra and South Africans Dylan Frittelli and Tjaart van der Walt. Kiwis include Josh Geary, Ryan Fox and Michael Hendry.

Kolkata with Sue Perkins (Prime, 8.40pm). Lively comedian Sue Perkins, usually seen making pithy comments about cakes in The Great British Bake Off, is sent to the heaving, diverse megacity of Kolkata. It’s a city that is reinventing itself, and there is a burgeoning 1% who are investing in property and buying Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are the 250,000 homeless street kids, the rickshaw wallahs and the chai sellers. Going above and beyond – or perhaps down and below – Perkins descends into the city’s Victorian sewers, joins a Laughing Club and makes an offering to the goddess Kali at Kalighat Temple.

A Place to Call Home (TV1, 9.05pm). Aussie melodrama A Place to Call Home joins the ranks of shows rescued by a pay-TV provider; it was cancelled in 2014, then resurrected in a deal between Channel Seven and Foxtel. A new ending for season two was immediately crafted to give it the correct amount of cliffhangeriness and that episode screens on Saturday on TV1 (10.05pm), so we’re up to speed. The show is really about religious and social mores in the 50s and carries on in this vein with the continuing secrets of the wealthy Bligh family. It’s brutal, although for once, matriarch Elizabeth Bligh (Noni Hazlehurst) is enjoying life in Sydney while her family teeter over pits of despair back at Ash Park. This season, lovely nurse Sarah (Marta Dusseldorp) struggles on with her sick husband Rene (Ben Winspear); George (Brett Climo) considers entering politics; villain Regina (Jenni Baird) schemes to secure George; and James (David Berry) is still gay and married to Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood). Kiwis Sara Wiseman and Craig Hall continue in their roles as free spirit Carolyn Bligh and Dr Jack.

Madam Secretary (Prime, 9.35pm). This isn’t the first time that Madeleine Albright has appeared in a TV series – how could we forget that Gilmore Girls dream sequence? – but it’s awesome anyway. “There’s plenty of room in the world for mediocre men,” she tells Téa Leoni’s Secretary of State, “there is no room for mediocre women.”

Beneath New Zealand, Monday.
Beneath New Zealand, Monday.

DOCUMENTARIES


Beneath New Zealand (Prime, Monday, 8.30pm) begins with some Lord of the Rings-style aerial views of the Southern Alps and unfolds like a beautiful tourist video as various “science communi­cators” explain how bits of New ­Zealand were formed.

The three-part series begins with Mountains & Caves: Julian Thomson of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences and Heather Purdie from the University of Canterbury traipse around the alps, discussing the alpine fault and the forces of erosion and pressure that have created, over millennia, our landscape.

Meantime, cavers Kieran McKay and Neil Silverwood spend two days in the Megamania Cave system in the top of the North Island, which is a limestone system carved out by water. There are amazing crystal structures as well as preserved moa bones and a few hardy spiders. Susan Hinemoa Wallace of Kai Tahu and Dan Hikuroa of the University of Auckland explain Maori use of, and connection with, the caves and mountains.

The programme is beautifully filmed and edited, although slightly like being back at school. The other two episodes explore Volcanoes and Rocks & Quakes.

More than 30 camera operators worked on The Hunt (TV3, Sunday, 7.30pm), a seven-part BBC series about predators, narrated by the apparently tireless Sir David Attenborough. It looks at the strategies employed by predators and prey in various zones, including the Arctic, the sea, forests and coasts. In case it sounds too scary for the kids, reportedly it’s not graphic but is spectacular.

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