Last Night's TV - The Little House, ITV1; The Trip, BBC2; Twitchers: a Very British Obsession,BBC4

Something wicked behind the wisteria

There's an old story about a dinner given by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in honour of the French President Charles de Gaulle. Struggling to make conversation with Madame de Gaulle, who spoke limited English, Lady Dorothy Macmillan resorted to a parlour-game overture. "If you could have one thing in life, what would it be?" she asked her French counterpart. Madame de Gaulle pondered this for a second, then beamed and said "a penis". There was a horrified silence around the table, broken by de Gaulle, who realised the confusion and said, "Non, she means 'appiness, 'appiness."

And so to ITV's two-part drama The Little House. One of the oddities of television drama these days is how affluent its inhabitants are, how skewed its portrait of Britain in favour of those few who live in £2m-detached period homes. I should think that less than 2 per cent of the population live in rambling, wisteria-clad houses in the Home Counties, yet in telly drama, soaps apart, it must be 70 per cent or more. This is not really a complaint, just an observation. After all, what these dramas usefully tell us is that money might buy lovely homes with mullioned windows but not, as Madame de Gaulle might have expressed it, a penis.

Anyway, scarcely has our collective mirth subsided at the hammed-up middle-class misery of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, than here we are again in the land of wisteria and hysteria, this time in Ed Whitmore's slick adaptation of Philippa Gregory's novel. This little house, incidentally, is definitely not to be confused with the one on the prairie. It stands in the stockbroker-belt grounds of a much bigger house, owned by wealthy Frederick and Elizabeth (Tim Pigott-Smith and Francesca Annis), who buy it in the hope that their son Patrick (Rupert Evans) and daughter-in-law Ruth (Lucy Griffiths) will move in and raise a family there.

So far, so mundane. Except that Ruth, a teacher orphaned in a childhood car crash, isn't ready to have a baby. She wants to spend time in America hunting down distant relatives. In the meantime, her husband and his parents represent her only family, but Elizabeth's ostensible kindness is only skin-deep. Her passion is for her son Patrick, and when Ruth subsequently gives birth, for her grandson Thomas. Elizabeth was desperate for the child to be male. "I don't think you know what mothering is until you've had a boy," she told Ruth. For Elizabeth, to cite dear old Madame de Gaulle again, happiness is a penis.

All this reminds those of us with long TV memories of Mother Love, another psychological thriller of 20-odd years ago that starred Diana Rigg as the nutty mother-in-law unhealthily attached to her son and hellbent on reclaiming him from his wife. Annis treads similar territory and does so marvellously, offering only a hint here and there that beneath the serene exterior lurks a bunny-boiling psychopath. So far, it is Ruth, diagnosed with postpartum depression, who appears to be the one with the mental illness, and indeed at the end of last night's episode the poor woman was carted off to a residential "clinic", giving Elizabeth the control she craved over young Thomas.

A top-notch cast, decent script and clever, moody direction make The Little House highly watchable, but I have one major gripe. When did we become so unreliable as an audience that we couldn't be trusted to watch next week's episode without a taster, before and sometimes over the final credits, of what's going to unfold? Or is it more to do with the programme-makers' lack of confidence in the product? Either way, it's deeply annoying, especially when we're happy to be kept guessing as to what might happen, only for our guesswork to be undermined by the dreaded "Next Week..."

Thankfully, there was no such nonsense at the end of The Trip, but then we don't need a preview to anticipate more of the same part-scripted and part-improvised banter between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they travel around the north of England, supposedly because Coogan has been hired by a Sunday newspaper to review fancy restaurants and, after inconveniently splitting up with his American girlfriend, has invited his old mate Brydon along.

The conceit is that the two comedians play heightened versions of themselves, which in the former's case seems to be a less obnoxious, more successful Alan Partridge, and in the latter's case, a worldlier, more knowing Uncle Bryn from Gavin & Stacey. Never mind the haute cuisine, The Trip is a shameless example of television feeding off itself, and sporadically very funny indeed. Moreover, speaking of Shameless, it's high time television showcased the beauty of the north of England. There must be people south of Newport Pagnell, too young to remember All Creatures Great and Small, who think of the north as one big, grubby council estate. Much as I enjoyed watching Coogan and Brydon in last night's opener, I enjoyed seeing the Trough of Bowland in my native Lancashire more.

I'm told that the Trough of Bowland is wonderful for bird-watching. I don't know much about bird-watching, or at least didn't before Twitchers: a Very British Obsession, a jaw-dropping documentary that revealed that the image of the genteel old duffer with binoculars couldn't be further from the truth; they're terrifying.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins