Nina Conti: a Ventriloquist's Story, BBC4, Sunday
Dead Boss, BBC3, Thursday
Louis Theroux: Twighlight of the Porn Stars, BBC2, Sunday

A ventriloquist at a career crossroads lets her dummy show the way – to poignant effect

How about this for the plot of a horror film: a pretty young ventriloquist is bequeathed a collection of sinister-looking dolls, including one of her benefactor himself, a strange and charismatic theatrical impresario who also used to be her lover .... Freaky! OK, maybe it's a bit more straight-to-DVD than David Lynch, but this is what happened to Nina Conti.

She, daughter of Tom, had a relationship with Ken Campbell, the underground theatre maverick with eyebrows like cumulonimbi, who was 34 years her senior. As she said in her weird and beguiling memoir-cum-travelogue Nina Conti – A Ventriloquist's Story, Campbell was like "a truffle pig for other people's talents". And for some reason he took one look at Conti – a ringer for Pippa Middleton – and thought, you need to throw your voice through a small, mangy monkey puppet.

Which Conti did, successfully and wittily, for a decade, until Campbell's death in 2008 coincided with a career crisis. Going through their old correspondence, she found a note from Campbell exhorting her to attend the unlikely sounding World Ventriloquists' Convention in Kentucky. She decided to go, and yes, that event is as weird as it sounds: 300 homely-looking "vents" wandering around a grotty motel with garish puppets (aliens, newborn infants) trying to avoid those tricky plosives. (In one extraordinary sequence a fellow attendee demonstrated the art of bifurcation: moving your lips as if saying one thing while actually enunciating something entirely different.)

I don't know Conti's work well, but I liked what I saw from the film – her act seemed to extend naturally from her philosophical doubts about her vocation: at one point her monkey hypnotised its mistress whereupon it lost its voice and was forced to head-butt her back to her senses. But the clips of other performers made you wonder why you don't see more ventriloquism on these shores (it's big in America, apparently): an irresistible mix of vaudeville and metaphysics.

But as her diary-style to-camera pieces revealed, Conti was struggling. At one point she took to her motel bed to start crying on the shoulder of the Campbell puppet. The ventriloquist spilling out her guts to the hard-hearted puppet is a bit of a cliché, but Conti's "conversations" were thoughtful, funny and, in this particular scene, extraordinary. The Campbell puppet suggested bluntly to a teary Conti that her babyish monkey puppet arrived on the due day of a foetus she had aborted. No wonder she admitted she was reading a book called Problems of the Self.

No such self-doubt was apparent in the first episode of Dead Boss, which was unfortunate. The premise of this new BBC3 murder-mystery sitcom, co-written by and starring Sharon Horgan, is that Helen Stephens (Horgan) has been wrongly convicted of murdering her employer, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Further conspiring against her are a useless solicitor, her venal sister, a sinister prison governor (Jennifer Saunders, left) and a script that displayed recidivist tendencies to criminal one-liners. Perhaps the series will settle, and the actors take a cue from Bryony Hannah's quirky turn as Helen's pyromaniac cellmate.

Talking about repeat offenders, what was Louis Theroux doing hanging around the sets of porn-film shoots again? In Twilight of the Porn Stars he was revisiting a subject, and indeed several interviewees, from a 1998 documentary he filmed in Los Angeles. This time, he was puzzling over the question of whether a career in porn might exact an emotional toll. At odds with this was his concerned-dad worry that the internet had destroyed a once-proud industry. You didn't really need to watch his film to guess the answers to those questions, but Theroux was lucky all the same to find these issues embodied in Tommy: a likeable, fortysomething leading man looking for love and a ticket out of porn and into zombie movies. Hey, everyone needs an ambition ....

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
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 iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit