There's something going on at ITV. Where's The Bill? Where's Kerry Katona? And what's all this about Downton Abbey? Rather like Jordan when she became Katie Price, ITV seems to be getting classier. And cleverer (or cleverer-seeming). To wit: Kidnap and Ransom, a three-part drama that boasts a cast and crew of such pedigree, it's practically BBC. Script by Patrick Harbinson (previously: Law & Order, 24, ER), and cast of television greats: Trevor Eve, John Hannah (though we'll have to wait, regrettably, until next week to see him in action) and a recently resurgent Helen Baxendale. Not bad for a channel last seen airing TV programmes like All at Sea (not that they've entirely vanished; hang around too long after Kidnap and Ransom and you'll have the misfortune of catching Odd One In, the "comedy" game show featuring Peter Andre.) Still, Kidnap and Ransom has all the makings of a classy package, and, by and large, it lives up to its promise.
Dominic King (Eve) is a private hostage negotiator, part of a plush company of international experts. Aging somewhat, reeling from the death of a hostage on a mission in Bolivia, he's under pressure at home to give it all up in favour of a normal life with the family. As he ponders this fate, he's asked to negotiate the release of a biologist snatched from her taxi in South Africa. While en route to the airport, Naomi Shaffer's driver has been shot, and her phone is being used to make calls demanding ransom.
As the snatched Schaffer, Emma Fielding vigorously portrayed the horror, the living nightmare, that kidnap must be. Her husband, played convincingly by Patrick Baladi, wanders round in a daze, by turns angry and bemused, tearing at his hair and attempting to placate his daughter. Schaffer's kidnappers, meanwhile, are genuinely frightening: masked, hysterical, dancing on the spot as if to summon evil spirits. In all, it was a persuasive drama, the human trauma sufficiently realistic, sufficiently great as to render the viewer hooked. I was watching on a computer screen at my desk; the task necessitated a hefty dose of self-restraint to avoid the hand-wringing, out-of-skin jumping that the script warranted.
Not that it was perfect. Several performances – particularly Tumisho Masha as the South African Inspector Clive Lanning – whiffed of ham. And at regular intervals, we were treated to a naff series of effects: screen dropping to monochrome, a number of jagged close-ups to thumping music. You know the sort: duh-duh-DAH. Awful, yes, though not so much as to turn it into a turkey. The close of last night's episode saw the plot twist just as Schaffer was about to be rescued. Cheesy graphics or not, I'll be tuning in to see what happens.
Why are none of the chefs in Channel 4's Hugh's Big Fish Fight women? It was a question asked by a blogger I follow on Twitter, and it's a fair point. Come on, Channel 4, what's up with that? Sure, you can argue that none of the channels' big names are women (in food, anyway), but then that's their fault too. Anyway, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's nice so we won't moan too much. I've liked him ever since River Cottage Everyday, in particular the programme on meat (I'd still like that book, in fact). Before that I thought he was a bit of a nuisance, too preachy by half (all very well living the good life when you've got acres of land and a lovely Aga, isn't it?), though I'll happily admit, in retrospect, that I was wrong. Plus ça change.
Last night, of course, Hugh had his preaching guns fully loaded. And you know what? It was fine. Good, even. Great. The final episode of his crusade to bring ethics to the fishing industry focused on the grim – very grim – conditions on salmon farms. Not only are the fish crammed together so tightly that they constantly brush up against one another, but they're fed pellets made of other fish, ground up. This isn't in itself an especially horrific fact, until you learn that much of the fish is wild, and that it takes three kilograms of ground-up wild fish to make one kilogram of farmed salmon. Why aren't we eating the oily, delicious little morsels instead, asked Hugh. Then we'd have three times more fish on our shelves too, not to mention a break from the boring old cod/haddock/salmon roster that dominates most supermarkets. No one seems to know the answer, but looking at the mackerel baps Hugh was offering crowds protesting by Houses of Parliament, it can't be far from discovery. "A thing of beauty," declared Jamie Oliver (he was in the neighbourhood). A thing of beauty indeed.
Episode two of Michel Roux's Service and our truculent trainees were already improving. Well, most of them. Not Jarelle, the sarky larger-than-life attention seeker. Confronted with the task of serving customers at a bacon-and-eggs caff, he was overbearing and boisterous, offering the distinct impression of ridiculing all he meets. Michel, softly spoken antithesis of all things Alan Sugar, called him to one side to give him a what-for. "That's just me. I've got a big personality," explained Jarelle, in a standard regurgitation of that like-me-or-lump-me attitude that plagues so many Big Brother contestants. He was swiftly dispatched home, Michel demonstrating more ruthlessness (not to say good sense) than Sugar ever did. More, please.