Last Night's Television:
Leaving Home At 8, Channel 4
Dancing On Wheels, BBC3

An unsentimental education

When I was eight – long before I'd heard of Eton or Tory Toffs or any of those things that spring to mind when the Great British Public Schooling System comes up for review – I longed to go to boarding school. It was all Enid Blyton's fault: at Malory Towers, no one ever got homesick. They were too busy having midnight snacks and sneaking out of dormitory windows. And playing lacrosse. Not that my parents were having any of it. Good thing, too, judging from last night's viewing.

In Leaving Home at 8, we followed four little girls – April, Lottie, and twins Caitlin and Simone – as they began their first term at Highfield, a plummy boarding school in Hampshire. For their part, the girls seemed pretty excited (too much Malory Towers). Their mothers, on the other hand, were dreading it. I'm not sure I've ever really thought of boarding from the parents' point of view. It's always the kids I imagine: abandoned, lonely, crying into their empty porridge bowls à la Oliver Twist (but posher). Last night, though, it was the mothers who seemed to be bearing the brunt; frequently on the insistence of their boarding-school-bred military husbands. "I always said no child of mine would board," reflected Lottie's mother. Lottie's dad held a different view. "He's won," she said giving us a fixed smile.

Of course, when it came to actually leaving home, the children weren't nearly as chipper as they had first seemed. April, despite proclaiming that she wouldn't miss mum and dad "because sometimes they can be very annoying", found it the hardest, sobbing late into the night, late into the term. Boarding school life had yet to have any tangible effect on her. Her older brother, however, had been at Highfield for two years already – and it was all too apparent. Gone are any trace of pedestrian vowels, replaced instead with the orfs and oofs of a Conservative front bench. "I like staying here for the weekends," he chuckled. "We pretend to be terrorists and run round the school."

The whole thing – watching these sweet little people as they are gradually institutionalised – was so peculiar, so old fashioned, that it made for quite fascinating viewing. Overwhelmingly, it was impossible to ignore the sense that depositing one's child, boarding-school style, with a group of strangers is just deeply, deeply unnatural. To their credit, the Highfield staff did an admirable job. Mrs Dunn, the school nurse, appeared to be on call virtually 24 hours a day, playing good cop to the headmistress Mrs Grey's stony-faced strict, if not bad, cop. Still, watching the parents cope with their absent children was not a million miles away from watching an addict being weaned off drugs. They sat, tense, anxious, apparently unable to think of anything else. They're told not to telephone in the first week; when they got their first visit – for one hour, on a Wednesday – they could hardly contain themselves. "It's so weird to feel nervous about seeing your own child," reflected one. By the end of the first term, the children were settled, though their mothers, one suspects, won't feel that way for quite some time.

In Dancing on Wheels, the BBC provided a welcome variation on the increasingly mindless string of dance programmes dominating our screens. Six wheelchair-users are paired with "celebrity" partners, and given the chance to compete for a spot representing Great Britain in the Wheelchair Dance Sport European Championships. Honestly, I'd no idea such a sport existed, though it seems that's not saying much. It is, apparently, practised in more than 40 countries by upwards of 5,000 competitors.

Admittedly, the programme's choice of celebrity was a little random (Heather Small from M People, anyone? Jake Dean off of Hollyoaks?), as are the judges (two dancers from Strictly Come Dancing and the former wheelchair-basketball player Ade Adepitan), though that's more than offset by Brian Fortuna. He was in charge of coaching the contestants and was completely brilliant. Gone was the sappy nice guy persona he maintains on Strictly, replaced instead by a kind of foul-mouthed New York stage school sass. When the peculiarly sideburned James (accompanied by TV presenter Caroline Flack) dared to criticise his choreography, he virtually hit the wall, leaping all over the place spitting profanities. He was perfect. Though I do wish he'd stop wearing that stupid baseball cap. Each week, one couple is eliminated. Last night, it was the lovely Carolyne and her partner, the former rugby league player Martin Offiah, which was a shame because they were one of my favourites. Now Carolyne's out of the running, I'm throwing my weight firmly behind Di to win. She's got a wicked sense of humour, and plenty of guts. Much to her delight, she's partnered by Mark Foster. "Aren't I a lucky girl?" she giggles. Actually, I'd say he's the lucky one.

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum