TV Preview, The League of Gentlemen (BBC2, Monday 10pm): A reminder of the amazing promise that this comedy troupe fulfilled

Plus: Britain’s Favourite Biscuit (Channel 5, Tuesday 9pm); Royal Variety Performance (ITV, Tuesday 7.30pm); Al Murray's Make Christmas Great Again (ITV, Friday 9pm);  BBC Sports Personality of the Year (BBC1, Sunday 6.45pm); The Apprentice: The Final (BBC1, Sunday 9pm)

Sean O'Grady
Friday 15 December 2017 18:45 GMT
Tubbs, Edward and the Royston Vasey cast of freaks make a welcome return to our screens
Tubbs, Edward and the Royston Vasey cast of freaks make a welcome return to our screens (BBC)

You’re probably got better things to do than slump in front of the telly the week before Christmas – that is what the festive holiday is for, after all – but there are some shows worth looking out for.

Prime amongst them is the return of The League of Gentlemen. It seems hard to believe that children have been born and and done their GCSEs since the cameras last ventured into Royston Vasey – and perhaps the renaissance of this innovative dark comedy proves what the road signs always said about the town – “You’ll Never Leave”. I wouldn’t want to give too much away, but you’ll be relieved, I am sure, to learn that Tubbs and Edward managed to escape from the inferno that destroyed the local shop (for local people) and the beautiful, precious things within. A little older, and a great deal more accomplished even than their early promise, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith remind us of the amazing promise they showed and subsequently fulfilled. I just wonder how Pauline and her pens are coping with universal credit.

Almost surreal and self-satirical in its title is Channel 5’s Tuesday offering Britain’s Favourite Biscuit. Then again a wander down the “biscuits and crackers” aisle of your local supermarket bears powerful witness to the astonishing ingenuity that the British have brought to bear on the art and craft of mass biscuit production. If we were as good at making cars or smartphones as we are at churning out the world’s biggest range of tea-time snacks we’d be the richest country on the planet. From digestives to Hobnobs, Wagon Wheels to Penguins, shortcake to shortbread, there is surely no nation on God’s earth that does a biccie better than the British – and none of your cookies or petits fours, thanks very much. It does remind me of the Viz comic’s spoof offer of a few years ago of a biscuit nativity scene, featuring, for example, mint, orange and raison Club biscuits as the three wise kings, the garibaldi as the innkeeper, the jammie dodger as the Angel Gabriel, the pink wafer as the Virgin Mary and the iced gem for the baby Jesus. Also, a nice touch this, the Tunnock’s teacake as the devil incarnate (being the ultimate temptation). As if in tribute, Greggs gave us this year the sausage roll nativity scene, unfairly pilloried by the fundamentalists.

Personally I’d like it if the telly folk could see their way to drumming up some interest in biscuit varieties that are rapidly falling out of national life, such as the Marie, the Nice and the Arrowroot, all great Victorian classics now too seldom glimpsed in an assortment tin. If pushed, I think I’d nominate the majestic and delicious Shah ginger biscuit manufactured by Botham’s of Whitby, “made with the warm spice of the Orient”, and, yes, I do now expect a packet of these posh ginger nuts in the post.

ITV are knocking out the Royal Variety Performance, which, to be honest, hasn’t had much claim to being some sort of shared national variety highlight experience since Arthur Askey was someone everyone had heard of. (Arthur was a 1940s version of Michael McIntyre who did a really cheesy song and dance schtick, outdated even in its day.)

This year it’s Miranda Hart and Prince William’s turn to try and make it all contemporary and “sick”, which is a bit much to ask of two people who were clinically diagnosed with early onset middle-age syndrome at birth. What’s wrong with Tarby or Des O’Connor anyway?

Independent Television’s highlight is Al Murray’s Make Christmas Great Again, which is an excellent aperitif/pre-loading exercise for the ordeal to come, and I think we all need the benefit of mine host’s advice on Brexit (he did, after all, help prevent that other pub comedian Nigel Farage becoming Member of Parliament for Thanet in the 2015 general election.

Another long-running staple of the TV calendar (since 1954) is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, which creaks up to the plate again this week, though surprisingly few of the winners have lived up to the “personality” bit (Nigel Mansell, Zara Phillips, Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton), which proves something, I suppose.

Last, I must remind of you of (1) the continued existence of The Apprentice, (2) that the big old salary for the winner has been turned into a £250,000 “investment” and that (3) the least bad candidate will be chosen as the winner in the final on Sunday night. They, at least, will have a happy Christmas. But what’s their favourite sugary biscuit, the biscuit of a winner?

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