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The Independent Culture
The BBC2 autumn schedules have a particularly rich lustre to them this year. The highlight is perhaps the eagerly-awaited second series of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Made 10 years after the original, ground- breaking monologues, this selection is performed by a top-notch collection of actors: Patricia Routledge, Eileen Atkins, Julie Walters, Penelope Wilton, Thora Hird and David Haig. As the presence of a solitary man reminds us, Bennett (below) has an uncanny insight into the female psyche. These Talking Heads are, if anything, darker than the last batch. No doubt even now they are being lined up for an A Level set-text list.

Comedy also makes a strong showing in BBC2's package. Much is expected of The Royle Family (above), the first sitcom from the team behind Mrs Merton (Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash and Henry Normal). Starring Aherne as a wannabe hairdresser and the former Brookside pairing of Sue Johnston and Ricky Tomlinson as her parents, the series centres on a Northern family who are described as "Britain's worst couch potatoes, living a life of fags, brews and endless TV".

Like Aherne, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, with one big hit behind them (in their case, Father Ted), are confronted with the problem of the "difficult" second project. Their solution has been to go for something completely different, a sketch show called Big Train (above right), performed by Kevin Eldon, Amelia Bulmore, Julia C Davis, Simon Pegg and Mark Heap. In the mix, we are promised "shy policemen, pop stars chasing sheep, a duck in danger, hens in armed combat, a confused Transport Minister, highly-charged sexual politics and casual, but necessary violence."

ITV's autumn offerings follow the trend of BBC1 (which is broadcasting The Scarlet Pimpernel and Vanity Fair) in going down the road signposted "Big Ratings via Costume Drama". For For Goodnight Mister Tom, John Thaw dons a hearty white beard which gives him an eerie resemblance to Captain Birdseye. In this two-hour dramatisation of the prize-winning children's novel by Michelle Magorian, he plays Tom Oakley, a crusty widower, who is gradually softened by his friendship with a nine-year-old evacuee who is lodging with him. Meanwhile, Juliet Stevenson gets into period dress to head the cast in ITV's adaptation of Cider With Rosie. The two-hour film, set in 1918 Gloucestershire, utilises narration by the author Laurie Lee taken from an unabridged recording of the book.

TV of a rather less sophisticated nature is promised by the live broadcast of the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Sky One from Monday 5 October. Every weekday morning between 7.30 and 8.30 am, viewers will be able to watch the antics of the Virgin Radio Breakfast team. Inspired innovation or lazy commissioning?

James Rampton