ONE of the most crowded markets on television is the “blues and twos” – blue lights, two tones – sector. Be it police, fire, or ambulance, it seems we cannot get enough of dramas and documentaries set in the worlds of the emergency services.

Few programmes have lasted as long, or kept up the same quality, as Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A&E, which first aired in 2011.

Filmed in St George’s Hospital, Tooting, London, the format is simple but effective, with cameras following cases from first call to eventual outcome. Interspersed with the action in A&E are interviews with patients and medical staff recalling what happened.

All human life is in an episode of 24 Hours, and viewers keep coming back for more. The new series is the twenty-first.

It is a bold blues and twos programme that takes on the mighty 24 Hours, but the makers of Ambulance (BBC1, Wednesday) have shown themselves smart enough to squeeze into a gap in the market and make it their own.

Starting its run four years ago, the Bafta-winning Ambulance follows crews around the country. The new series starts in London; previous ones have followed teams in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

Although this new series was filmed in the autumn of 2019, before Covid-19 changed the world, the essentials of the job remain: getting to people in need as quickly as possible.

Over the course of an hour we see crews race to a building site where someone has had a seizure; tend to a footballer with a broken ankle (the particularly squeamish might want to look away at that point); deal with a couple of panic attacks; and an unconscious drug user whose pal insists on “helping” the crew.

Running through the programme is the scourge of knife attacks. By 10am on a Sunday reports of four stabbings have come in.

Ambulance is built around the personalities of the crew members out in the field, the people who answer the phones in the control room, and finally the patients. Everyone has a story; some of them brief and simply told; others more complex and teased out over the hour.

In the course of a single shift, the crews are exposed to more trauma than most of us will hopefully ever experience over the course of a lifetime. What shines through is not just their patience in what can often be trying situations, but their humanity and sense of humour. I didn’t expect to laugh during the programme, but I did.

A perfectly paced programme that goes from strength to strength. No need to choose between it and 24 Hours – you won’t go wrong watching both.

Over on the TV review page you can read my two cents’ worth on Dog Tales: The Making of Man’s Best Friend.

In the interests of balance, and because the first one was so good, I had a peek at the follow up, Cat Tales: In From the Wild (BBC4, Tuesday).

Cats beat dogs in the numbers game, being the world’s most popular furry pets. Like hounds, cats have adapted to get the most out of their human hosts. Their meow, for example, is perfectly pitched to elicit a caring response, just like a baby’s cry. Adult cats only meow to humans, not each other.

Cats have a reputation for aloofness, and when you consider how they have been persecuted in the past – the Middle Ages being a particularly savage time – it’s a wonder they have anything to do with humans at all. But they do, and for that many a cat person is eternally grateful.

With the return of MSPs and MPs to Holyrood and Westminster, politics shows are returning to the schedules. Debate Night (BBC Scotland, Wednesday) is the sort-of alternative to BBC1’s Question Time. It has the same basic set-up, an audience asking questions of a panel of politicians, commentators and other public figures, but is done on a smaller, more intimate scale.

Viewers liked the lack of fuss, with some preferring this to QT. Before the coronavirus crisis forced QT into more remote ways of working, the Fiona Bruce-hosted network show was gaining a reputation as too shouty. In Scotland there were rows over audience balance.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the new series of Debate Night, hosted again by Stephen Jardine, will take place via Zoom, with a virtual audience taking part from home. The first show on September 16 takes in all of Scotland. After that, audiences will be drawn from Aberdeen (September 23); Edinburgh and Lothian (September 30); Argyll and Bute (October 7); Borders, Galashiels, Hawick and Peebles (October 28); Glasgow (November 4); Dundee and Perth (November 11) and Ayrshire (November 18). To apply for an audience spot, search “BBC Scotland Debate Night”.