Television preview RECOMMENDED VIEWING THIS WEEKEND
If sport is your thing, but the annual cycles of football, cricket, tennis and horse-racing are beginning to make you feel old, then Channel 4 has come up with a new one - The Mountain Bike Tour of Britain (Sat). Not so long ago, mountain bikes were a novel way of annoying ramblers in the countryside. Now they're an Olympic sport. What is it in the nature of man that has to turn every mildly enjoyable pursuit into a Serious Sport, complete with sponsorship, dour spectators in anoraks and proto-Murray Walkers wittering on about how so-and-so is now ranked fourth in Canada? Maybe what we need are not new sports to televise, but new ways of televising sport.
Comedians like Frank Skinner and Lee Hurst are suggesting a way forward, although Hurst's Saturday Live (Sat ITV) looks like two steps back. Does anyone want live stand-up anymore? Apparently not, and viewers are voting with their remote controls. The guest comedians this week are Caroline Quentin and Leslie Ash from Men Behaving Badly.
Apart from Euro 96, the best TV this weekend comes in the shape of Dancing in the Street (Sat BBC2), the second in Daniel McCabe and Vicky Bippart's judicious history of rock'n'roll. Tonight's episode takes us, broadly speaking, from Elvis Presley to the Beatles, through that ill-remembered period when producers like Leiber & Stoller and Phil Spector guided the popular taste (Spector, by the way, called his so-called wall of sound "little symphonies for kids"), with doo-wop melodies and all-girl bands with names like The Chiffons, The Exciters and The Cookies. Spector inspired Brian Wilson - creative genius behind The Beach Boys - to turn the West Coast surf sound into classic mainstream pop, but Wilson admits to being floored by the arrival of The Beatles. "Suddenly I felt unhip. We looked more like golf caddies than pop stars."
I wish I could say that I enjoyed The Big Picnic (Sat BBC2) more than I did. This is a straight filming of Bill Bryden's epic piece of theatre, following a group of young men from Govan after they enthusiastically volunteer for the killing fields of the First World War. Filmed in a Harland and Wolff shed on the banks of the Clyde, this is the sort of theatre where the chap you have been peaceably sitting next to for half an hour suddenly turns out be a planted actor, jumping up and shouting like a mad man. The audience seem remarkably tolerant of all this, and the problem is not the staging or the piece itself. It's the rather flat transition to television. Aim the camera and shoot.
Can anyone please explain the appeal of Bob Monkhouse as a stand-up comedian? Bob Monkhouse on the Spot (Sat BBC1) returns for a new series, the trailers stressing the risque nature of the material. But Monkhouse is a man who jots down the gags he hears and keeps them in leather-bound volumes - not so much comic genius as an Olympic sport. But don't tell Channel 4.
The big picture
Sat 10pm C4
Jack Nicholson and understatement have never been on first-name terms, and he hams it up to great effect in Kubrick's typically stylish adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a would-be writer who goes with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son to care- take a remote moutain hotel for the winter. His attempts at writing prove futile - he ends up repeatedly typing out the phrase "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - as the eerie spirit of the place sends him murderously mad. High-class grand guignol.
The big match
England v Spain
Sat 2.30pm BBC1
From villains derided with over-the-top headlines before the tournament to heroes lauded with equally over-the-top headlines after the match against Holland, England's football players like David Seaman (above) must have run the gamut of emotions recently. The main danger for them in their quarter-final match against Spain is that they will overdose on the hype and play like headless chickens. Terry Venables, however, is a canny enough manager to have been damping down the bonfire of expectation that was lit with his team's incendiary performance on Tuesday.
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