Top TV programmes this week

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury
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Here’s our guide to some of the best programmes coming up on television this week.

Sunday

The Freddie Mercury Story: Who Wants to Live Forever? (Channel 5, 9pm)

Who wants to live forever indeed?

A few of us would probably like to give it a go. After all, it’s horrible to think of all the things we might miss out on in the future, and it’s also rather difficult to imagine not being around.

Freddie Mercury, who sang a moving song asking that very question, which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Highlander, has managed to achieve a kind of immortality.

Yes, he passed away in 1991, but his name and image lives on in the hearts of his fans, and he remains as popular as ever.

Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in what is now Tanzania, the eldest of two children of a British Colonial Office worker and his wife. Music was important to him from an early age; he began piano lessons at seven and five years later formed his first band, The Hectics, with schoolfriends. Their repertoire involved pop songs by the likes of Cliff Richard and Little Richard.

When he was 17, Mercury and his family fled their homeland during an uprising, and moved to Middlesex.

After studying art (a skill he put to good use to design Queen’s famous heraldic logo), he fronted various bands, but was regarded as shy and retiring.

In 1970, he met drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May, who had both been playing in a group called Smile; with bass player Brian Deacon they formed Queen. The name was Mercury’s idea, although their management weren’t keen on it.

“It’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid,” he would later remark. “It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”

It certainly didn’t do them any harm. Queen went on to become one of the most successful acts of the 1970s and 1980s, racking up hit after hit, including Bohemian Rhapsody, Don’t Stop Me Now, Somebody to Love and We Are the Champions - all of which were written by Mercury himself.

He was at the forefront of it all, a flamboyant figure worshipped and adored by millions across the globe - that shy teenager who first arrived in England was seemingly long gone.

When he died following a battle with Aids, it came as a shock, despite rumours about his failing health hitting the headlines for years.

Now, 25 years on, this documentary takes a look at the man behind the public persona - the great pretender who continues to bewitch and bedazzle.

It focuses in particular on two years of his life - the summer of 1985, when he wowed the crowds at Live Aid as well as the audience watching at home, to the spring of 1987 when he received the news that he was HIV positive.

The programme featured dramatised moments and features an interview with his bodyguard and chauffeur Terry Giddings, who breaks his silence for the first time.

It’s followed by 20 Moments That Rocked Pop, which features footage from Live Aid, as does That’s So 1985, which is also broadcast later in the evening.

Monday

Our Guy in China (Channel 4, 9pm)

Back in 2015, Guy Martin was one of the bookies’ favourites to take over as a new presenter on Top Gear - and many viewers were tipping him for the job as well.

After all, as the presenter of Speed with Guy Martin and one-off documentaries on the Spitfire and the Vulcan Bomber, he certainly had the engineering credentials and a proven ability to share his enthusiasm with a TV audience. He also had the requisite daredevil spirit, as anyone who saw Guy Martin’s Wall of Death: Live earlier this year can confirm.

In fact, it seems the only person who didn’t think he was right for the job was Guy himself. He couldn’t see how he would fit the high-profile show in around his day job as a mechanic, preferring to do his media work on a slightly more ad hoc basis.

He told The Telegraph: “I’ve got my own TV stuff on the go and it’s all a bit oddball - it’s one-offs and I can do what, when and how I want it really. I don’t have any scripts or people telling me to do stuff twice.

“I’ve got too much on with my truck work to do any more, and I like the variation. I’m wagging my own tail and not having it wagged for me.”

So, we can be sure that his new series, Our Guy in China, is a real passion project.

As you might expect from the title, it finds the Lincolnshire lorry mechanic and motorcycle racer heading to China, where he’ll be largely ignoring its more famous tourist spots in favour of learning more about what fuels the country’s reputation for innovation, technological development and gigantic manufacturing.

And he’ll also find time to attempt to set a new record for cycling across the longest desert highway in the world.

In the opening episode, he follows the trail of the Yangtze River, beginning in the fastest-growing city in the world, Chongqing. As well as boasting a population four times that of London, it’s also the largest motorcycle producing region in the world. Guy gets a chance to build his own electric motorbike in a factory, where he’s surprised by the lack of automation - everything is assembled by a skilled workforce.

From there, it’s on to a building site, where Guy meets the ‘Bang Bang Army’ a group of aging porters who rely on a simple bamboo pole and sheer brute strength to haul loads around the docks.

There’s also a trip to the world’s biggest hydroelectric powerstation and a collection of 1,000 public toilets known as the Porcelain Palace, before he heads to the shipping ports of Shanghai, where the presenter takes the opportunity to send his new electric bike back to his hometown of Grimsby.

However, the most surprising aspect of the trip comes when Guy calls in at a backstreet barbershop and ends up losing his trademark sideburns.

Tuesday

Breaking the Silence Live (Channel 4, 8pm)

Many TV programmes claim to give viewers the chance to witness a life-changing moment - but Breaking the Silence Live is a ground-breaking documentary that should more than live up to the hype.

It brings together a group of profoundly deaf people who have all undergone surgery to have a cochlear implant fitted. We’re about to witness the moment those implants are switched on, broadcast live from The Richard Ramsden Centre for Hearing Implants at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The reaction to this moment will be hard to predict - some patients report hearing speech clearly straight away, while others may only initially hear whistles and beeps, which will develop into something more meaningful over time. Many require follow-up care to fine-tune the implants. But for all them, it will be a profound experience.

We also get to learn more about the people undergoing the procedure, and what prompted them to have the surgery.

Rebecca, 32, has one of the most unusual stories - she had no hearing problems at all until nine years ago, when she suddenly lost all hearing in her right ear virtually overnight. She coped well with the change until one day in July, when she woke up to find she had gone completely deaf in her left ear.

She says: “You hear of people being born deaf or gradually losing their hearing, but to wake up and it’s gone, it’s the scariest thing ever.”

Unable to lip read or use sign language, Rebecca has understandably struggled to adjust, especially as she now finds it difficult to communicate with her three-year-old son. She hopes that the implant will allow her to hear his voice again.

We also meet 48-year-old cheesemaker John and his friend and neighbour Pete, who was left temporarily deaf when he suffered a stroke two years ago. John supported his friend during that difficult time, and now Pete is repaying the favour by encouraging his mate to deal with his own hearing loss, which began five years ago.

Pete is hopeful the surgery will help John come out of his shell, saying: “I think he just withdrew a bit from society. Obviously having me as a neighbour, knocking on his door all the time and asking and asking and not giving up, sort of changed his mind a little bit... we have a laugh together, we’ve maintained that all the way through it and our relationship’s built on trust and fun.”

Meanwhile, Fiona was born deaf but has experienced a slow deterioration in the little hearing she did have. She was offered an implant as a teenager, but feared the operation would be too invasive and might cause her to lose her identity. But now as a mother of two hearing children, she’s ready to give it a try. She says: “What if [my children] want to sing? I want to hear that! Or play music, do theatre? That’s my motivation, that’s my reward at the end.”

We’ll find out if the procedure has lived up to Rebecca, John, Fiona and the rest of the group’s expectations as the programme airs - and a signed live version will be shown simultaneously on 4seven.

Wednesday

The Supervet (Channel 4, 8pm)

For some people, their pets are their lives.

They adore the animals who share their homes, dote on them and try to make sure their lives are as fulfilling as their own.

So, when such a treasured creature falls ill or is injured, it’s a painful experience for them, too.

Those of us who have had beloved pets know the horror of visiting the vet and hearing those dreaded words: “It would be kinder to put them to sleep...”

However, euthanasia tends not to be an option for Noel Fitzpatrick. He’s at the cutting edge of veterinary science - in fact, he probably IS the cutting edge, pushing boundaries to keep animals living longer in a pain-free existence.

For those who haven’t seen this show before, which follows his work and that of his staff, it charts his efforts to find ways to treat creatures that until fairly recently would have had to be put down, usually by technological advances.

“We are in the midst of great change in medicine,” says Fitzpatrick. “It is ever more apparent in the world of medicine that surgery involving bionics and regenerative medicine should be shared among animals and humans for the greater good of all.

“Many of the techniques demonstrated in this series are not available for human patients yet and this should herald a wake-up call for human surgeons everywhere that unless we move forward together, both human and animal medicine will be much worse off because of this lack of communication.

“It is incredible when you think that in the Paralympics in twenty years from now people may be running using the implants and techniques which will be seen in these animals in Supervet.”

He claims that technology is, perhaps, moving faster than our ability to process its implications.

“The main challenge nowadays is not so much the technology because pretty much everything is possible, it is the moral and ethical implications of moving forward,” he explains. “Many people both within and outside the veterinary profession believe that we should not move forward with custom joint replacements and bionic limbs or spinal disc replacements and regenerative medicine in pet dogs and cats because the current options of full limb amputation or euthanasia may, in their view, be kinder for the animal.

“Meanwhile all of these technologies will be tried out in experimental animals for the benefit of humans. How is this fair? Should veterinary medicine move forward or stay still? The decisions we make must always be in the best interests of the patient and it is not enough to be able to do something, it has to be the right thing to do for that patient in that moment in time.”

There’s a chance to make up your own mind on the matter while watching this week’s edition, in which Fitzpatrick tries to save the life of a buzzard with a broken wing, a beloved Labrador with badly damaged elbow joints, and a pampered cat who needs repair work to its slipping knee-caps.

Thursday

Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, 8pm)

An “extraordinary range of incredible stories”.

The words of executive producer Colette Flight ahead of this 13th series of the genealogy documentary in which 10 more celebrities embark journeys of discovery deep into their families’ past.

“Who Do You Think You Are? is back with another brilliant line-up of much-loved stars, uncovering hidden history by bringing their ancestors to life,” she adds.

“As we follow our celebrities on their personal journey into their family trees, an extraordinary range of incredible stories are revealed, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, but always compelling.”

This new run will span almost 1000 years of history and there will heartbreak and laughter, intrigue and surprise, as each famous face discovers a cast of remarkable ancestors, including freedom fighters and criminals, war heroes and bigamists.

The series will see a fair few extraordinary firsts as it travels to new territories, exploring how our celebrities’ ancestors were caught up in slavery-era Martinique, the birth of Bangladesh, the invention of the weekend, the first pineapples in Britain and the perils of life in working-class Liverpool.

Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden’s investigation brings to light an extraordinary Napoleonic-era cross-channel romance and the forgotten tragedy of Britain’s worst ever maritime disaster.

Meanwhile, former Girls Aloud member and X Factor judge Cheryl’s journey is one of equal contrasts, as she discovers the story of her long and forgotten great grandfather - a quintessential Tommy in the First World War who survived one of the conflict’s key battles.

Also investigating their heritage will be film and stage star Sir Ian McKellen, news presenter Sophie Raworth, The Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson, Star Wars and Harry Potter actor Warwick Davis, Countrywise presenter Liz Bonnin, The Inbetweeners actor and comedian Greg Davies and Casualty actress Sunetra Sarker.

But it all begins tonight with EastEnders actor Danny Dyer.

Danny, who now lives in Debden, Epping Forest, was raised in Canning Town and began his acting career as a 16-year-old after being spotted at school and landing a role in Prime Suspect 3.

The actor then found fame in films including Football Factory and Human Traffic before presenting The Real Football Factories and Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men.

In 2013, he signed up for a long-term role as Mick Carter in EastEnders and went on to win the Serial Drama Performance award at the National Television Awards in 2015 and 2016.

When he first agreed to doing Who Do You Think You Are?, the 39-year-old said he hoped his family history will ‘freak a few people out’.

However, he perhaps gets more than he bargained for on his journey.

As he traces his family from poverty and crime in the East End back through to the 11th century, Danny also discovers he has an incredible connection to nobility.

Could the current king of the Queen Vic really be related to the royals?

Friday

Walliams & Friend (BBC1, 9.30pm)

If you didn’t see the one-off Christmas special of the same name, then the title of this new series may initially look like a typo.

After all, surely it should be Walliams & Friends, plural? As a hugely successful actor, comedian, children’s author and talent show judge, not to mention a man who once swam the Channel for charity, David Walliams must have more than one mate.

But don’t worry - the title is really a nod to the fact that David, who many people first became aware of thanks to Little Britain, is going back to his sketch show, double-act roots. It’s just that he’s going to have a new comedy partner each week.

David says there is definite upside to swapping comedy partners: “It means the show can reinvent itself week to week. It feels very fresh and never gets boring. In other sketch shows, there are a lot of reasons why you end up doing the same characters every week. You need at least a hundred sketches for a series, and that’s very hard. But if you’re writing for specific people, you can constantly reinvent the show.”

The first Christmas special saw David joining forces with actress and all-round national treasure Joanne Lumley, and it was such a success that he’s been able to recruit an impressive line-up to take part in this series.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll see him team up with a couple of people who certainly know their way around a sketch show - Harry Enfield and Meera Syal of Goodness, Gracious Me fame.

He’ll also be working with award-winning actresses Sheridan Smith and Miranda Richardson, as well as Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville.

But the first friend to join David to play an array of comedy characters is stand-up and actor Jack Whitehall.

David says of his co-star: “He’s so, so funny. In fact, he is too funny. He needs to be stopped! He made me feel really old when he told me, ‘I used to love watching Little Britain when I was at school.’ [I said]’I’m sorry, how old are you?’ He’s still in his 20s. It’s absurd!”

We’re going to be seeing Jack as we’ve never seen him before - for a start, he’ll be dressing as a woman. (If he wants any hints on that, he should probably ask David, who as anyone with even a passing knowledge of his CV will know, is no stranger to dresses).

They’ll also be straying into Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s territory with their own, somewhat inappropriate take on Sherlock and Watson, and bringing us the world’s worst dating show contestant.

Just in case this year’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! is proving a little too tame for your tastes, we’re being treated to the launch of Britain’s cruellest reality show, Celebrity Slammer, in which David finds himself locked up with the likes of The Chuckle Brothers and Bob Carolgees.

And although it’s Friend singular in the title, keep your eyes peeled for the impressive supporting cast, which includes Mike Wozniak, Jason Lewis and Morgana Robinson.