LAST NIGHT

Even if you skipped the Champions' League final, yesterday definitely counted as a Blokes' Night In. On Channel 4, the first half of Ian Taylor's two-part documentary on the Foreign Legion revealed that the grizzled Gallic sadists in charge of basic training force raw recruits to take lessons in ironing. Ironing lessons? Teenage fantasists will be looking around for a proper manly occupation - garden design, perhaps, or aromatherapy.

Meanwhile, real-life Red Watch swapped Scouse banter and hurtled round their sodden city to stop Liverpool from burning in the first of Ben Gale's series Firefighters (BBC1). Back on the dramatic side of the hazy line that separates fact from fiction when hard men go to work on TV, the lads - and token lass - in the van of the Operational Support Unit returned in Backup (BBC1). They uncovered a post-watershed plot that spliced bare-knuckle boxing (to the death) with hints, to be pursued next week, of a paedophile conspiracy. My advice is: never trust the Beardie.

One common feature in this blizzard of testosterone was the quasi-fascist cult of crack troops - SAS, Paras, the Legion itself - that sprouted like a pimple on the face of British culture with the Falklands War. The likeable Liverpudlian fire crews went in for plenty of merry chat as they clanged from blaze to hoax to smoulder. ("You're the best Australian I've ever worked with," said one firefighter to a colleague from Adelaide. "How many have you worked with?" "Only one, like"). Yet the plodding voiceover reverently told us that one of Red Watch belonged to the favoured few whose number swell miraculously in dodgy pubs near closing time: veterans of the Parachute Regiment.

In Backup, the sole woman in the van - played by Katrina Levon - unwisely fell back into bed with an old flame who had turned his failing farm into a venue for illegal fights. Clearly, only some distilled Essence of Bloke could save her - and the unit - from this pickle. Enter "Grim Jim" Reaper, a surly Geordie cop who went undercover to take on a hulking gypsy thug in the illicit ring. (Hitler slaughtered half a million of them, but gypsies still come readily to hand whenever some idle writer - Roy Mitchell in this case - needs a byword for snarling savagery.) At the end, the van collectively cottoned on to Grim Jim's proud secret. "You was SAS. You was in the Regiment." Rejoice, rejoice.

Too much of this cap-badge fetishism and an impressionable lad might fetch up in Calais ("spelt C-A-L-A-I-S," intoned the Peter Sellers voice on the telephone helpline), knocking on the door of the Legion Etrangere. Foreign Legion included enough shots of punitive press-ups to last a lifetime, but the outfit's grinding French bureaucracy also shone through. That extended to one world-class euphemism. "Avez-vous des problemes avec la justice?" the interviewing officer asked new recruit Dean Heggie, from Ecosse. Murder, drugs and armed robbery make the Legion a little hot under the kepi; otherwise, pas de probleme. Runaways can still change their name if the initiation ordeals don't bury them first. On this score, the 50km route march with an outsize backpack looked a doddle compared with the rigours of singing dirge-like regimental songs, off-key and in bad French, late into the night. "They are not so good," winced another member of the Legion's oddly understated officer corps.

Gripping stuff; but, as always with offspring of the fly-on-the-wall, you craved just a smidgen of context and history. We learned that the Legion has lost 35,000 men in 150 years, but not that most went down in sacrificial, last-ditch bids to rescue the French forces from messes that they should never have got into in the first place. As for the clipped South African officer on hand to act as our seasoned English-speaking barracks guide - why, in 1996, was he serving in the Legion rather than his newly-liberated homeland's army? I can think of several answers. None of them involves a passion for immaculately-ironed creases.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee