Last Night's TV - The Secret Millionaire, Channel 4; Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, BBC3

The caring,sharing type

There's nothing very secret about the success of
The Secret Millionaire, the sixth series of which began last night. All the features of feel-good drama are there. The hero in search of redemption; the epic quest for meaning; the deception of noble souls for their own, ultimate benefit; and the final reconciliation, in which a grand "reveal" brings all parties to the same dais of knowledge. Why on earth didn't they think of that earlier?

That the show is embarking on another series is testimony to its enduring appeal. By the time each episode finishes, we ache with the glorious sense that a better world is possible, that good may triumph. This feeling alone justifies our hour-long investment, as it did last night, when Sean Gallagher was dispatched to Middlesbrough with customary zeal. And even for a show as formulaic as this, his fitness for the role was exemplary.

For 12 years, he told us, he had built up an IT recruitment business (is there a drearier three-word phrase in English?) as a kind of surrogate for his personal failings. A long relationship with a fiancée broke down, and he never found love again. This deprived him of children, so instead he directed his paternal sensibilities toward his two nieces, a project made poignant by the death 25 years ago of their mother – Sean's sister – through an epileptic fit. That event was the true beginning of our plot, so that the chronology was disrupted and constantly informed by painful memories of an event we never saw.

Even before he got to Middlesbrough, the waterworks had begun. Sean didn't often speak about his sister. The presence of a camera and crew cajoled him into confronting his anguish, but each time he did so it proved too much, and he stepped away to compose himself. These teary recollections combined with an over-zealous script, so that by the time we got to the first ad break the sense was that Channel 4 was laying it on a bit thick. Our hero boasted of his £8,000 LED television, on which he just loved to watch sport; we saw him looking out over the balcony of his lush penthouse in Spain; then he was testing out a £120,000 Aston Martin, telling his man at the dealership he just loves that new car smell.

Cut to Sean traipsing around grim Middlesbrough, interviewing locals about their quotidian miseries. Then the script went into overdrive, piling cliché on to cliché. This town allegedly has the country's highest levels of unemployment – compared with other towns of similar size? Among what age group? And was that trusty thing, a Northern "former economic powerhouse", "blighted by drugs and crime". Such phrases don't take much imagination, but Sean reinforced the message with the highly predictable assertion that this place was "like a war zone". There followed shots of him peering out from behind his curtains, and close-ups of his home security.

All this was in aid of pumping up the contrast between where he had come from and where he was now, but this was draining long before the missionary had done his work. He was more than redeemed, however, by his efforts for charity.

Sean turned up at the offices of Fairbridge, an extraordinary group that helps children who have fallen between institutions. It would be remiss not to mention that Fairbridge does precisely the same kind of work as Prospex, a charity in Islington of which I am a trustee, because I could see a familiar dilemma on the face of the workers and their young people. Many young people who might be involved in crime are terrified of the camera, fearing a conspiracy from the police. For Sean and his Channel 4 team to have convinced them to take part was a considerable achievement in itself. And Fairbridge's staff were also in a familiar difficulty, of not wanting to seem desperate for exposure but keen for all the help they can get.

Our hero had the most wonderful rapport with the young people, refusing to patronise them and sensitive to their intelligence. It was thrilling to watch; but even that was not as heart-wrenching as his second charitable encounter, with the founders of Abbie's Love. This small charity was set up by the parents of a young girl called Abbie Clarke, who died of an epileptic seizure. The link to Sean's sister was immediate, and didn't need to be laboured. Abbie's father lived with the guilt of thinking his daughter was asleep when in fact she was in a seizure. All he and his partner wanted was to raise money for bedside alarms that would prevent future such tragedies. The solidarity between our grieving brother-hero, and these grieving parent-champions, was marvellous television.

I dare say it left me exhausted, though. By the time we got to the opening salvo of series nine of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, the old compassion fatigue was setting in. And devotees of this show, which used to be awful and is now rather addictive, will know that Gaz (played by Will Mellor) is now in a wheelchair.

Just as in Byker Grove many years ago, when PJ and Duncan, later and less enjoyably known as Ant and Dec, went from being joyful youngsters to morbid goons after the paintball accident that blinded PJ, so sitcoms are harder to pull off when the main character is paralysed. Laughter feels wrong. Send for a secret millionaire, I kept thinking to myself, and undo this injustice.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam