The League Of Gentlemen

10pm, BBC Two

A local shop, for local people. Two decades on since The League Of Gentlemen first crept onto our airwaves via BBC Radio 4, and twelve since the troupe were last onscreen together under the League banner, in 2005’s spin-off movie, the show’s most famous catchphrase has accrued extra layers of meaning, like crusts grown over a scab.

The original stuff – the raw, sticky, icky thing wrapped inside a set of festering, twitching lace-curtains and feeding on British manners, repressions and horrors, which made the TV series something like a dank sitcom based on Fred and Rosemary West produced by the Amicus studio in collaboration with Dick Emery and Fanny Craddock – is all still there.

But, as the show returns for three special episodes to mark the 20th anniversary, the lusty isolationist motto of its murderous, snout-nosed shopkeepers, Edward and Tubbs, has a new, supercharged potency. In short, that sinister battle cry now feels like everything that lurks behind Brexit, boiled down to six black and white words, like a lumpy little humbug, just big enough to stick in your throat and choke yourself on in a suicidal act of entirely unerotic auto-asphyxiation.

When, after a sinister build up, Edward and Tubbs suddenly appear again this week, it is like witnessing the arrival of the Valkyries of Leave, and, for a piercing second, you realise you are doomed to be trapped there in Royston Vasey with them forever, surrounded by bizarre characters whose motives you will never understand. It would surely take only the tiniest sliver of Sellotape on the nose to render Nigel Farage into a grinning minor League character made flesh. Give Boris Johnson a headscarf, a fright, and Jacob-Rees Mogg’s spectacles, and Sister Tubbs lives. And as for Jacob himself, he would need nothing added at all.

Somehow supernatural, perhaps immortal, Edward and Tubbs have been written off as dead and then returned before now. So it’s not giving too much away to reveal that they appear again in this short new series. After all, if they didn’t include a host of the old favourites, the gentlemen of the League – Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton – would be hunted down by their most loving fans, and then torn to pieces and burned.

This, though, brings up the third layer of meaning that now folds around “a local shop for local people.” For fans, this mini-series will be a hellish-heavenly delight, the best kind of early Christmas present. But it’s difficult to imagine how any newcomers might get on. I don’t want to say there’s nothing for you here, but...

Not that these new episodes are simply excuses to roll out the greatest hits. Royston Vasey is the kind of British town where time goes to die, but if there is a theme running through the new shows, it is that time marches on, even here, and takes its toll. “Poignancy” would be the wrong word, but some characters are shown slightly more sympathy than before. At least for a moment.

But as fun as these new League adventures are – and they are – I was struck by how much all the gentlemen have evolved since. Not least Shearsmith and Pemberton, whose subsequent work in Psychoville and, particularly, Inside Number 9 (subject of a shameless in-joke plug) has remained rooted in League obsessions, and yet rigorously pushed and pulled that spirit into ever more rewarding and unexpected shapes and colours. It’s good going back to Royston Vasey for a visit. But I wouldn’t want to get stuck there.


The Apprentice: The Final

9pm, BBC One

The grand finale of The Apprentice, when Alan Sugar comes floating down on his tiny cloud plucking his harp to announce his latest chosen business partner, is, of course, the least interesting episode of any series of the show, even in a classic year, which this hasn’t really been. After eleven fun weeks of making every contestant look like someone you’d rather eat your own toenails than spend any time with in person, the sudden attempt to turn around and present two of them as realistic prospects for a £250,000 investment isn’t merely unconvincing, it’s boring. But we have to go through it. Tonight, the boring final two candidates, James and Sarah, go head to head, and have the task of bringing their business plans to life, launching them before an audience of experts. Only the most boring can survive. But there is the prospect of seeing which of them will pick Elizabeth to “help.” Stay tuned afterwards for The Apprentice: You’re Hired, in which Rhod Gilbert and pals dissect events.


The Repair Shop At Christmas

7pm, BBC Two

For a small cult, one of the TV treasures of 2017 was the arrival of teatime treat The Repair Shop, a balm for the soul in which, essentially, nice people quietly fix things in a shed. An injured Antiques Roadshow, the set up is that people bring in damaged old objects, and, with a firm handshake, the show’s assembled experts pledge to restore them. For this special, they’re fixing vaguely seasonal stuff, including a Victorian “Polyphon” music box, a 1930s doll named Betty, some plaster Nativity figures, and a dilapidated Swedish sleigh. Be warned: even though the snow is fake, this is the Christmassiest thing in years. The combined effect is like watching It’s A Wonderful Life after a drink too many, and tears are practically guaranteed. When that old music box starts playing “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” again for two sisters who haven’t heard it in decades, it’s like hearing the actual sound of Christmas past. But that’s nothing compared with seeing the rejuvenated Betty returned to her 82-year-old owner. Excuse me a moment.


Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees

8pm, BBC Four

Another merciless blast of pure Christmas Niceness from the Beeb. Everybody, apart from people who don’t count, loves Judi Dench. And Judi Dench really, really loves trees. So it only makes sense that footage of Judi Dench being excited, astonished and delighted by trees, over and over again, is lovely to watch. There’s (a little) more to it than that, of course. For the past 30 years, Dame Judi has been nurturing a woodland at the bottom of her Surrey garden, in which she plants trees for loved ones who have died, and with the help of experts she spends a year exploring the secret life of the things through the seasons: their astonishing methods of communicating with each other; even the sounds they make beneath the bark. The science is fascinating, but it’s the moments she breaks off to recite a Shakespeare sonnet that will destroy you. And then comes her brief encounter with a wee red squirrel – I don’t say this lightly, but it’s possibly the most life affirming few seconds ever broadcast on British TV.


Star Wars Night

8pm, BBC Four

With the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, battling its way through cinemas now, it’s a good time, and a good excuse, for BBC Four to throw together an evening dedicated to the universe-conquering franchise. Things begin with a repeat for the John Williams Film Prom (8pm), originally broadcast back in summer to celebrate the composer’s 85th birthday. The BBC Concert Orchestra unleashes sections of the original trilogy’s swashbuckling score, alongside pieces from Williams’ equally unforgettable music for Jaws, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Superman, ET, Harry Potter and more. It’s followed by the geek-heavenly The Galaxy Britain Built: Droids, Darth Vader And Lightsabers (10pm), a documentary on the British designers, technicians and crew who helped bring George Lucas’s visions to life on screen. Finally, Hollywood’s Master Of Myth: Joseph Campbell (11pm) is a profile of the American mythologist whose writing – particularly in the books The Hero With A Thousand Faces and The Masks Of God – helped shape Lucas’s story. Lucas and Mad Max man George Miller are among the contributors.


Saturday Night Fever: The Ultimate Disco Movie

9pm, BBC Two

Your actual Saturday Night Feverers John Travolta and Barry “Woman’s Man” Gibb are among the many contributors to this excellent documentary, marking the 40th anniversary of the release of the movie Travolta dubs “Taxi Driver with dancing.” Leader of the pack, however, is the exploding Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli, who, with his open shirt plunging to the navel, plunges into the gritty New York City disco scene that fed the movie, and examines the career of Robert Stigwood, the impresario who gambled on bringing the film to the screen against the odds, in the process making a star of Travolta, selling a lot of white suits, and resurrecting the Bee Gees’ career. Contributions from many involved and rare on-location archive bring the story to grungy life. Madly, they’re not screening the movie itself tonight, but the documentary is complemented by The Joy Of The Bee Gees (10.10pm) and the archive compilation Boogie Fever: A TOTP2 Disco Special (11.10pm), featuring the likes of Chic, Earth Wind And Fire, Kool And The Gang and Blondie.


Feud: Bette And Joan

9pm, BBC Two

With its retro styling, starry cast and acid script, Ryan Murphy’s dramatised retelling of the real-life rivalry between Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) as it exploded while filming the only movie they made together, 1962’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, is glossy, glitzy good fun. When the catfights erupt, it’s terrific. But there’s more to it than pantomime, and it’s the scenes that show how easily the two women might have been friends that make it. In the first episode of tonight’s double bill, a truce seems on the cards when the two bond over shared troubles. But the industry would much rather have them at each others’ throats...Later, when the gruelling shooting finally wraps, the pressure only intensifies, as word about the movie begins to spread. Look out for cult director John Waters playing cult director William Castle! And stay tuned for a screening of the original, curdled, pin-sharp Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (10.35pm) – the real Hollywod gothic.


I fell for it at first sight, but it was always a dicey business, loving Detectorists (BBC Four). You never wanted it to end. Yet there was always the worry that, if they kept on trying to do more, there would come a time when it wouldn’t be as good, and that would have been terrible.

It seems Mackenzie Crook, writer, director and co-star of the thing, worried over that more than anyone. When the BBC asked for a second series, he appeared genuinely surprised. After delivering a perfect follow-up, he was particularly thrown by the news that the door was being left open for him to come back and make a third, and took a year or so away, working out whether he had anything left worth doing there.

That third, final, series ended this week, and, among many remarkable things, perhaps the most extraordinary is how, right to the end, it managed to hit exactly the same small, handmade groove that made the programme such a rare gem from the beginning, while always building, always going bigger – or, rather, digging deeper.

Detectorists was in touch with something that set it apart from every other contemporary sitcom. It was ostensibly about two men with metal detectors, Andy (Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones), pals who have become pals without thinking about it, who wander empty fields together, searching for treasure. There were jokes: daft banter about University Challenge and dogging, odd sight gags, Simon and Garfunkel. But it was really about time passing, and how we distract ourselves from the passing time. How we keep hoping that we’re going to find that thing, one day – and maybe, if we’re very lucky, finally realise it was there all along, Wizard Of OZ style.

This kind of stuff, coupled with the vanishing bucolic setting (the other thing Detectorists was about is how Britain looks when it’s quiet), makes it sound sweet and gentle. Maybe it was, and maybe those things are nothing to be scared of. But Detectorists was also tough and weird at heart. Sometimes the show stepped outside itself: the second series opened with a flashback to medieval slaughter in the placid meadows Lance and Andy tramp through; series three saw those fields swarm, eerily and movingly, with the ghosts of all who had passed through them.

That latter sequence, conjured up when Andy blew on a long-buried old whistle, was a deadpan nod to the uncanny concerns of MR James. The final episode saw a bunch of people joining forces to erect a gazebo, shot in a style that referenced the communal building of the church in John Ford’s classic western, My Darling Clementine. There were things like this in Detectorists, lying just beneath the surface. And that gazebo moment kicked off a perfect final stretch of people just being with each other and realising it, as Detectorists came clean about its real subject: relationships. Life is short and time will bury us all. But, for a moment, we can be in it together.