Bob on the Box - London CallingBob Eveleigh
Bob Eveleigh: There’s top back-to-back fare on BBC Entertainment on Sundays.
With BBC Entertainment and its associated BBC Knowledge and BBC Lifestyle channels wrapping many of their current offerings in a "London Calling " blanket, in a period of programming linked to the 60th jubilee celebrations of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the Olympic Games in the English capital, DStv viewers have little cause for complaint as far as viewing variety is concerned.
In the months surrounding both events there have been, are and will be many highly entertaining new and past series airing, but not all relate directly to the "London Calling" theme.
One night now featuring top fare is Sunday, with the 2010 series - the eighth - of the ever-popular Strictly Come Dancing and the second season of Downton Abbey airing back-to-back from about 6pm to 9.40pm, with the Strictly results show following for the next half-hour.
To deal with what is one of the BBC's top variety presentations first, this is the 2010 run of programmes, once more co-hosted by Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly, with Claudia Winkleman, who hosts a supplementary series to the dance competition, Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two, not yet seen in South Africa, joining Daly for the results shows.
In keeping with the BBC's policy of constantly trying to add freshness to the format, this run began with a launch edition, on a new - very blue! - set with the contestants and Tess Daly positioned in a special area high above the dance floor. This introductory episode, which aired three weeks in advance of the actual competitive dancing in the UK on original showing, but was flighted only one week earlier in this BBC Entertainment run, saw the celebrity contestants teamed with their professional dancer partners, of which there are three new additions - all male.
They are the youthful Jared Murillo, Robin Windsor and Russia's Artem Chigvintsev, which is almost as difficult a mouthful for the presenters to pronounce as some of the Eastern European Wimbledon contestants!
With the full details of this production and its results freely available to anyone with access to the Internet via computer or smartphone, if, like me, you prefer to watch to the end without spoiling their viewing fun by checking who won, on the evidence of last Sunday's first round, of the 14 celebrities, those to watch out for should be:
*Macho past Welsh rugby star, Gavin Henson (who could project a little more personality, teamed with Katya Virshilas)
*East Enders heart-throb Scott Maslen (with 2009's winning teacher/choreographer Natalie Lowe)
*Comedienne, character actress and psychologist Pamela Stephenson (who is wed to Scots funnyman Billy Connolly in real life and is dancing with James Jordan)
*BBC TV presenter Matt Baker (who co-hosted the 2012 Olympic Celebratory TV Party with Claudia Winkleman when Britain won the host city bid and pairs with Aliona Vilani)
*and the gorgeous actress (also en ex-Eastender) and model Kara Tointon, who seems destined to be this season's glamour girl and is dancing with Artem Chigvintsev (I could whisper that they become a hot social item as the run continues....).
Strangely enough, Grammy-winning singer Michelle Williams, she of the legs that seemingly go on forever, appears to lack the musicality one would have thought a vocalist of her reputation should possess and I don't think she will be a threat, while the joker in the pack is definitely its eldest participant, bouncy magician Paul Daniels.
Sadly for some contestants, I think the public favourite is going to be the also elderly and rotund politician and novelist Anne Widdecombe, who is highly likely to be saved and saved and saved by the home TV audience, at the expense of more accomplished entrants, as was the case with BBC news anchor John Sergeant in the previous series. Just ask Zoe Lucker.....
Anyway we shall all wait and see.
The judging panel remains the same with the Dee-Zar-Ster-noting Craig Revel Horwood and demonstrative, excitable Bruno Tonioli (who are both top stage choreographers), past winner Alesha Dixon, who is far less experienced than Arlene Phillips, who she replaced two seasons ago, while one of Britain's top ballroom dance authorities, Len Goodman, continues to chair the group.
Immediately following Strictly Come Dancing in the Sunday BBC Entertainment evening schedule, at 8.30pm, is the second season of Downton Abbey, a production that must have evoked immediate memories for older BBC viewers of a 1970s hit, Upstairs, Downstairs, which, featuring an A-list cast including such familiar small and big screen names as Gordon Jackson, Pauline Collins, Jean Marsh, Ian Ogilvy and Lesley Anne Down, kept British viewers glued to their sets for five years with its account of the goings on between the aristocratic family who lived upstairs and the downstairs staff who served them in a London townhouse in the Edwardian First World era.
Downton Abbey, which shares the same time frame and upstairs/downstairs theme, is, however, set in a fictional Yorkshire location, but is actually shot at the real-life Earl and Countess of Carnarvon's home, Highclere Castle, in Newbury, Hampshire, with its village exteriors filmed in a little place called Bampton in Oxfordshire.
In the series, co-produced for ITV in Britain by Carnival Films with the US TV organisation WGBH Boston and co-created by Julian Fellowes, who wrote most of the episodes, and Gareth Neame, the castle is the home of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora, and their family of three daughters.
Veteran actor Hugh Bonneville (coincidentally also currently being seen on this channel in the more modern satirical sendup of Olympics organisation, Twenty Twelve) plays Robert and the imported American actress Elizabeth McGovern (best known for such movies as Ragtime, Once Upon a Time in America and Ordinary People) as his wife Cora, with Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, the eldest of their three daughters. Dan Stevens plays the unexpected heir to the Grantham estate, Matthew Crawley, who is linked with Maryin an up-and-down romance.
But the cast is surely led by the redoubtable and brilliant talent that is Maggie Smith, who won a primetime American Emmy Award (one of six garnered by the show last year) for her portrayal of Robert's acid-tongued mother, The Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Downstairs the main characters are the butler, Carson, played by Jim Carter, familiar from any number of British films and TV series, Phyllis Logan, as the sympathetic housekeeper Elsie Hughes, Brendan Coyle (also to be seen heading the cast of another forthcoming BBC Entertainment serial, Starlings) as Lord Grantham's valet, John Bates, and Siobhan Finneran, as Lady Grantham's personal maid, the gossiping and conniving Sarah O'Brien.
Of the many other cast members, Joanine Froggatt, who plays Anna, the head housemaid in love with John Bates, has parleyed the showing of the series on US TV (where it screens on PBS) into a career leap as she has had offers of work in the US as a result of her exposure in Downton Abbey.
Still on the trivia side, Michelle Dockery, aside from being a most capable actress, is also a talented jazz singer (as is Elizabeth McGovern), and she makes regular guest appearances with McGovern's group, Sadie and the Hotheads, in various London venues.
There are eight episodes in this run, which screened in the UK last year, with a third season currently in the production stages and due to air in Britain in September, plus a 2011 Christmas special, which BBC Entertainment might well hold for seasonal showing in December.
No one does period drama quite like the Brits and Downton Abbey, with its excellent casting, atmosphere and feeling for the Edwardian times in which it is set, is yet another example of this.
But, at its core, it is nothing but a really classy, well costumed soap opera.....
Originally an ITV presentation, it was bought by the BBC for subsequent overseas showing on BBC Entertainment.
STRICTLY COME DANCING, BBC Entertainment (Channel 120): Premiere showing at about 6pm on Sundays, with half-hour results show at 9.35pm (after Downton Abbey finishes); repeats Monday at 12.45am, results show at 2.45am; Friday at 10.20am, results show at 11am.
DOWNTON ABBEY, BBC Entertainment (Channel 120): Premiere showing at 8.30pm on Sundays; repeats at 3.15am Monday; 12.20pm Monday; 10.25am following Sunday.