BBC Scotland launch

You can get bogged down in the search for significance, and I probably spent longer than I should have trying to work out just why this date – February 24 – was chosen as the most auspicious on which to launch the long-awaited new BBC Scotland. After three days of trying to crack the code, the theory that was emerging was a complex and increasingly disturbing revelation, centred around the fact that February 24 marks both Dennis Law’s birthday and the feast day of Saint Matthias, the apostle selected to make up the numbers after Judas betrayed Jesus.

It got dark in there for a while. But looking back now, I suspect I was reading too much into it. In any case, whatever the reason, tonight’s the night BBC Scotland splashes down, getting underway in defiantly old-school style with A Night At The Theatre (7pm), a mixed variety bag shot at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, with comedian Iain Stirling presenting well-kent faces including Elaine C Smith and Grado.

Aside from Getting Hitched Asian Style (7.30pm) – an amiable documentary series following the country’s biggest Asian wedding planners as they tackle some of their most spectacular events – familiar comedy faces are pretty much the order of tonight’s launch. The biggest draw is the arrival of the ninth and, it seems, final series of Still Game (9pm), with Jack and Victor struggling to get to grips with mobile phones and modern celebrity, after Winston goes viral. (The Craiglang gang return for another new episode on Thursday at 10pm.) Meanwhile, Burnistoun boys Iain Connell and Robert Florence are back for a welcome one-off, Burnistoun Tunes In (10pm), allowing them the chance to roll out an Outlander parody that’s neither big nor clever, but is quite funny.

Things take an encouraging left turn later tonight, with Nae Pasaran (10.30pm), a moving documentary by Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra about the workers at the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride who, in 1974, downed tools in protest against General Pinochet. Following Pinochet’s bloody military coup, the men refused to work on engines bound for his air force. Sierra gets many of the workers back together to recall events, and explores how their act of solidarity resonated on the ground back in Chile.

As the week continues, BBC Scotland settles into a regular shape. Although technically on air from noon, the early schedule mostly replicates BBC Two, and, essentially, the channel lives from 7pm-midnight. The heart of each weeknight comes with The Nine (9pm), an hour of news and current affairs with hosts Rebecca Curran and Martin Geissler. Around this come a variety of game shows, documentaries and “popular factual” films, such as Sink Or Skim, on Easdale’s semi-legendary World Stone Skimming Championships (Monday, 7.30pm), or the self-explanatory Mini Disco Divas (8pm, Wednesday).

READ MORE:Barry Didcock’s TV review: Baptiste, BBC One https://www.heraldscotland.com/admin/?article_id=17445474&preview=1

Dramas include the return of Clique (Wednesday, 10pm), and, in the weeks to come, Guilt, a new crime drama from writer Neil Forsyth, starring the ever-dependable Mark Bonnar. But the most arresting programme of this first week is The Grey Area (Tuesday, 11pm), a one-off by the writing-directing team Garry Anthony Fraser and Garry Torrance.

Shot in Edinburgh with a cast featuring new faces and non-actors recruited from drama workshops and addiction recovery groups, it’s a portrait of a place where drugs and violence can seem like the only life on offer, and stands out for not being quite what you expect. Like the DIY hip-hop that soundtracks the film, edges are left rough, raw and awkward, and the story unfolds at a free-flowing pace. Impassioned and made with an attitude, it stands a few encouraging beats away from regular, polished TV drama. If BBC Scotland can make room for more low-budget experimentation along these lines, it could be on to something.



This Time With Alan Partridge

9.30pm, BBC One

Give thanks as a whole new book of the Alaniad begins. God, I’ve missed you. Last we saw the great man, he was firmly settled in local radio, hosting North Norfolk Digital’s Mid-Morning Matters. But now fate has offered him a chance at a comeback to TV’s big league: John Baskell, avuncular presenter of BBC magazine show This Time, has fallen ill, and, with literally no one else available, Alan has been offered the gig, filling in alongside co-host Jennie Gresham (Susannah Fielding). As ever, a forensic parody of broadcasting cliché (here, a bright, merciless take on the Beeb’s One Show) floats on the deeper waters of Alan’s flailing career and fraying inner demons. Most excellently, his loyal PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu) is back by his side, and Mid-Morning Matters whipping boy Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) is along for the ride.


The Miracle

9pm, Sky Atlantic

It’s impossible to predict how this eight-part Italian import might develop, but tonight’s opening double bill is the most mesmerising two hours of drama 2019 has delivered so far. Written by novelist Niccolò Ammaniti, the series begins with a police raid on a Mafia hideout, where cops discover something unexpected: a statue of the Virgin Mary, which, inexplicably, constantly weeps human blood. Nervous security forces notify the Prime Minister (Guido Caprino) of the miraculous discovery, and, as he struggles over what to do with the great secret, the elite's high life is contrasted with sleaze and hopelessness on the streets, particularly via the unsettling Marcello (Tommaso Ragno), a man mired in the ways of the flesh. Set against an Italy considering whether to leave the EU, the atmosphere of impending chaos is strange, spacy and stunning. Elena Lietti is fantastic as the PM’s wife.


The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On

9pm, BBC Two

Like the title says, it’s now been three decades since publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel sparked a worldwide controversy that saw the author sentenced to death for blasphemy in a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. But as this engrossing film by Mobeen Azhar illustrates, thirty years later, the passions aroused by the affair are still strong. Azhar hails from Yorkshire, where the first protests against Rushdie’s book began, and as he begins to explore the issue, he quickly encounters fellow Muslims for whom it remains a source of great anger. Mobeen traces how the events of 1989 continue to have a legacy, hearing from the original protestors and the opposing voices fighting for free speech, as well as former members of the National Front, who claim the furore over the book became a recruiting tool for the far-right.


The Parkinson's Drug Trial: A Miracle Cure?

9pm, BBC Two

Shot over six years, this fascinating and hugely moving two-part documentary follows a group of volunteers with Parkinson’s as they take part in a trial to test a potentially groundbreaking new treatment. Led by neurosurgeon Professor Steven Gill, the procedure involves complex brain surgery followed by months of infusions via a port embedded into the skull, designed to deliver new drug GDNF directly to very deep parts of the brain. Along the way, we get to know some of the volunteers, see how the disease has ravaged them, and begin to understand how much hope they have pinned on the experiment – even though half of them are actually on a placebo. In this first episode, Professor Gill performs surgery on the volunteers to implant the device he’s designed to deliver the drug. Both the surgery and the infusions are medical firsts.


Soft Cell: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

9pm, BBC Four

BBC Four’s Friday night music documentary strand recovers its mojo with this largely excellent documentary on Soft Cell, filmed around preparations for the duo’s epic reunion/ “final” concert at London’s O2 Arena late last year. Between cackles, Marc Almond and Dave Ball relate their own story: from lonely childhoods in Southport and Blackpool, respectively, through their first meeting as art students in Leeds in the late 1970s, where love of punk, performance art, Kraftwerk, Northern Soul, and the soiled glamour of the urban underbelly fused in the band that would quickly be catapulted to Number One with their cover of “Tainted Love.” The duo recount the tension of trying to balance outsider instincts with their status as pop stars, and how, as commercial pressure mounted, the music grew darker, and their private lives grew more dissolute. There’s fantastic archive footage, alongside rehearsals for the O2.


Tutti Frutti

9.30pm, BBC Scotland

The only place to be tonight, as BBC Scotland comes up from the archives bearing solid gold: the long longed-for repeat of John Byrne’s beloved 1987 drama about The Majestics, the past-its-sell-by-date Scottish rock’n’roll band that finds an unexpected new lease of life. When their singer, Big Jazza McGlone (Robbie Coltrane), is killed on the eve of their anniversary tour of Scotland’s boondocks, his younger brother, failed artist Danny (Coltrane again), is reluctantly persuaded to step in, but brings with him the most controversial element the band has encountered in its long history: a woman guitar player, Suzi Kettles (Emma Thompson). The timecapsule of a vanished Chimmy Chungas 80s Glasgow is potent, but the writing and performances remain as sharp as ever. Coltrane, Thompson and Richard Wilson – as the immortal Mr Clockerty – are on peak form. Required viewing.