The Weekend's TV: Stephen Tompkinson’s Australian Balloon Adventure, Sun, ITV1
The Unforgettable...Jeremy Beadle, Sun, ITV1

Ups and downs for the high-flyer

If you're at all familiar with the Australian cricket team, or soaps like Neighbours – which, come to think of it, are the two main ways in which the Antipodes has been presented to the English imagination in recent times – you'd be forgiven for thinking Stephen Tompkinson was himself Australian (especially if you'd made a point of avoiding Ballykissangel).

Australia is reputably a vast, classless expanse in which every man is an Everyman and being common is a universal ambition, not a note of derision. In Stephen Tompkinson's Australian Balloon Adventure, our protagonist fitted right in. Tall, debonair, affable, and above all deeply inoffensive, his every feature seemed feasibly plucked from suburban Sydney or mid-town Melbourne, so hard was it to distinguish between him and his hosts.

Celebrity travelogues on television usually depend on a certain distance, a foreignness among natives, that makes them hover between anthropology and journalism. But Tompkinson was so at ease among the rituals and traditions of his acquaintances that he seemed not so much going native as going home. There was none of the awkwardness produced by a language barrier; no manners or mannerisms were lost in translation. That subtracted from the customary charm of this genre, which is humility in uncertain terrain. Tompkinson was perfectly humble. But the terrain was very familiar.

The adventure was facilitated by a hot-air balloon – red-and-white Daisy, designed by and named after his daughter – which took him over the remote, arid landscape of south-east Australia. Barely 10 minutes in, there was sudden drama from an appalling crash, in which Tompkinson, his co-pilot, cameraman, and sound guy barely escaped with their lives, hitting the earth at 35 knots (40mph) and being dragged along the dust for nearly half a mile. Having recovered, they continued their journey by other means, especially car, until the balloon was mobile again.

Along the way, they sought to discover the essence of Down Under. It was like catching up with a cousin after several years apart. Much of what they did was essentially English, from drinking claret to playing cricket on a spectacular village green that hosted a perfect wicket within a bowl of blossoming conifers. Except for when we saw a bit of yabby racing – freshwater crayfish racing, that is – it was hard to detect a sense of adventure, because this looked as much like Sussex as New South Wales. Last night's was the first of a series and, while avoiding crashes, it's to be hoped there's more drama in what more is to come.

Where Tompkinson's crew succeeded was in reaffirming the essential bond between England and Australia, and the sense that Australia is a middle-class paradise. There was no poverty in sight, no personal turmoil, no clouds: the overwhelming feeling was that to be born an Australian would be the most terrific piece of luck. Yet that very similarity that makes Australia such an attraction to Englishmen also meant that, inevitably, the show descended into an exact match of its protagonist – perfectly likeable, but a little dull as a result.

For much of his career, that was the inverse of Jeremy Beadle's reputation. He spent decades branded as serviceably absurd, but entertaining nevertheless. He was the original prankster, the master of the practical joke that brought 15 minutes of fame to nobodies. With his eternal quiff, stupid beard, rubber features and instinctive jocularity, his place in the national consciousness, harnessed over four decades, was owed to his being a peerless figure of fun. Angela Carter said comedy is tragedy that happens to other people, and by making himself the centre of attention – by inviting people to laugh at him and not simply with him – Beadle took the jokes, and the tragedy, upon himself.

What was marvellous about The Unforgettable... Jeremy Beadle was that it sensitively conveyed the rather sad point that this man was, of his own volition, completely misunderstood. There is a form of television comedy, whose vanguard he was in, where the comic plays the buffoon and invites his audience to come down to a level where all is absurd and frivolous. Beadle, especially the Beadle of You've Been Framed in later years, seemed just this, a kind of merry mountebank with limited intelligence. In fact, he was just the opposite.

Did you know that he raised over £100m for charity – more, as his friend Chris Tarrant put it, than probably every other television entertainer of his generation? Or that he was born in the post-war East End to a single mother, his father having abandoned her upon mention of pregnancy? Or that he was born with Poland Syndrome, which caused webbing on his right hand, and that he dropped out of school despite being ferociously intelligent? Or even that in his long-haired twenties he was better looking than most rock stars?

He was part of the brilliant brigade that ran Time Out in its early days and, when launching its edition in Manchester, organised rock concerts on the hoof, whereupon he'd ring up friends and nonchalantly declare that the Grateful Dead were headlining. Stints on LBC radio followed before his television breakthrough. By the time he peaked with Beadle's About, he owed his career chiefly to his extraordinary ability to play dumb – which, in retrospect, required a hell of a brain. And yet, as this show proved, it was convincing, so that the last laugh was his, and the real joke on us.

a. rajan@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/amolrajan

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?