20:32 EST, 9 December 2013
20:32 EST, 9 December 2013
Great British Garden Revival ★★★★✰
The Royal Variety Performance ★★★✰✰
British variety is nearly dead, and only the active intervention of the Royal Family can rescue it. But that’s got nothing to do with the cavalcade of stars entertaining the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the London Palladium.
To save our variety of wild flowers, Prince Charles launched the Coronation Meadows project last year to mark the Diamond Jubilee, picking 60 ancient meadows to protect. During the past century, a shocking 98 per cent of meadows have been lost to farming, forestry or urban sprawl, and almost all our 1,300 native wild flowers have been wiped out.
The meadows are being preserved by old-fashioned methods, as Monty Don discovered in Great British Garden Revival (BBC2), a new series intended to get us growing things again.
Monty Don discovered meadows are being preserved using old fashioned methods in the Great British Garden Revival
He tried cutting grass with a scythe — this traditional method gives the field mice a chance to flee, but I can’t see it replacing the hover-mower on suburban lawns.
Monty’s idea for scattering wild flower seeds all over the back garden is also unlikely to catch on. But his notion for a mini-meadow in an old tin bath was a winner.
Seeing Monty create a floral haven from a heap of junk and broken pottery was an entertainment, like watching the classic Blue Peter team being ingenious with used toilet rolls and sticky-backed plastic. Enthusiastic telly is always a pleasure, and this was passionate stuff.
Gardener Joe Swift was urging us to stop paving over our front gardens and start sprucing up the wasteland between doorstep and pavement.
One avenue on Tyneside had been transformed into a semi-rainforest after residents started with hanging baskets and got carried away. They discovered that greenery discouraged gangs of youths from hanging around, and even deterred litter bugs.
Gardener Joe Swift urged us to stop paving over our front gardens and start sprucing up the area
But the sight of people gardening on that scale isn’t so much inspirational as intimidating. We’re not all green-fingered — for many of us, concreting the flowerbeds is simply a quicker and cheaper alternative to planting lots of rose bushes and watching them die.
Joe’s more simple ideas, like wrapping a clematis round a drainpipe, looked easier. But England’s heritage as a green and pleasant land seems very distant.
Speaking of heritage, comedian John Bishop introduced two-and-a-half hours of The Royal Variety Performance (ITV), television’s last link to its music hall past and the only show on earth that can pair rappers Rizzle Kicks with Cockney geezers Chas & Dave.
It was average fare, with too many numbers plugging new West End musicals — including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show Stephen Ward, based on the Profumo affair. It’s a lavish production, but Lord L-W does seem to have missed the point.
John Bishop introduced The Royal Variety Performance, television’s last link to its music hall past
This was the scandal that had everything — high society call-girls, Russian spies, aristocratic orgies and a spine-chilling villain in landlord Peter Rachman.
The show might have been called The Christine Keeler Story. It could have stolen Mandy Rice-Davies’s cynical catchphrase: ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’
Why call it ‘Stephen Ward’ after the osteopath who stumbled into a conspiracy and paid with his life? They might as well have titled it The Forgotten Man.
Still, the show can’t get off to a bumpier start than the Royal Variety Performance itself, in 1912. When the first acts were introduced, Queen Mary was so scandalised that she covered her face with her programme and refused to look.
The two-and-a-half hour production included a performance from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new West End musical Stephen Ward, about the Profumo Affair
The sight that horrified her was male impersonator Vesta Tilley, a woman swaggering around in trousers and puffing a cigar. It got worse: Little Tich, who did an act walking on the tips of his 30in boots, resorted to whisky to fortify his nerves. He became so fortified that he passed out.
And when the teenage Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, went backstage to congratulate the performers, he surprised comedian Alfred Lester in his underclothes. ‘I can’t shake hands with my future sovereign in my pants and vest!’ yelped poor old Alfred.
Edward just laughed. Variety is the spice of life, after all.