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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Captivating insights from a master of his craft? Do leave it out, Sir Ian 

The Graham Norton Show

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The Jonathan Ross Show

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The 80s: Music’s Greatest Decade?

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What was Sir Ian McKellen thinking? For a couple of minutes on a prime-time chat show, he started talking seriously — and held everyone mesmerised.

The 82-year-old, currently playing the doddery family retainer Firs in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, told The Graham Norton Show (BBC1) how he captured the octogenarian servant’s gait, with one palsied hand and a crooked back.

It literally made him feel ancient, he said — and was a vivid contrast to the lithe, nervous gestures he used as the young Prince of Denmark in his previous play, Hamlet.

What was Sir Ian McKellen thinking? For a couple of minutes on a prime-time chat show, he started talking seriously — and held everyone mesmerised

What was Sir Ian McKellen thinking? For a couple of minutes on a prime-time chat show, he started talking seriously — and held everyone mesmerised

He demonstrated the two modes, switching between them like a magician flipping a coin. Graham’s guests, particularly fellow actors Jessie Buckley and Eddie Redmayne, were agog — perched on the edge of their seats. 

That’s not what the show is meant to be. Norton deftly steered it back, into the relentless flippancy we expect.

Brainless trivia is his stock-in-trade, and for the rest of the hour he made sure that’s what we got.

Jessie forced a smile at a family video of herself as a child, writer Stephen Merchant mocked himself for being too tall, and a couple of million viewers wondered whether it was worth waiting up through this dross just to hear Elton John perform his new song at the end. 

Wossy’s idea of a searching question was to ask each celeb whether they’d fancy a bus ride into space on the Amazon rocket. Dame Joan Collins said: ‘No, absolutely not.’ Succession star Brian Cox also said: ‘No, absolutely not’. Comedian Rob Beckett said: ‘I’m up for it. If it was taking off near my house, I’d go

Wossy’s idea of a searching question was to ask each celeb whether they’d fancy a bus ride into space on the Amazon rocket. Dame Joan Collins said: ‘No, absolutely not.’ Succession star Brian Cox also said: ‘No, absolutely not’. Comedian Rob Beckett said: ‘I’m up for it. If it was taking off near my house, I’d go

Everyone, most of all the guests, wished we could have a whole episode of the intelligent conversation that Sir Ian inadvertently provided.

The Jonathan Ross Show (ITV) made no such slips. It was shallow anecdotage all the way.

Wossy’s idea of a searching question was to ask each celeb whether they’d fancy a bus ride into space on the Amazon rocket.

Dame Joan Collins said: ‘No, absolutely not.’ Succession star Brian Cox also said: ‘No, absolutely not’. Comedian Rob Beckett said: ‘I’m up for it. If it was taking off near my house, I’d go.’

The question was pointless, a vapid attempt at making small talk — the sort of thing a nervous young man might memorise to ask on a first date, in case he runs out of things to say.

Joan and Brian, both seasoned raconteurs, were plugging autobiographies and gave us a selection of truncated tales — though nothing we hadn’t heard before. We weren’t even rewarded with more Elton . . . just Duran Duran, celebrating their 40th anniversary. Once they were a boy band, now they’re a gang of OAPs.

Duran Duran got a five-second look-in on The 80s: Music’s Greatest Decade? (BBC2) but they shouldn’t feel insulted, because practically none of the era’s greats featured for longer than a blink. 

We heard barely four bars of U2, The Smiths or Prince. Kate Bush and George Michael went unmentioned. Springsteen was on screen for as long as it took him to haul Courteney Cox out of the crowd in his Dancing In The Dark video.

Instead, we had long, dreary clips from the likes of Bananarama and Bronski Beat, while presenter Dylan Jones droned sententiously about their lasting contribution to musical culture.

I bet Dylan wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to Bananarama when he was editor of pretentious fashion mag i-D in the 1980s. His thesis, that modern pop started with the launch of MTV in 1981, was impossible to follow, because he was intent on showing off his knowledge.

Like Mark Kermode with his shows about movie genres, Dylan chucked heaps of obscure names at us without stopping to explain their significance.

Why don’t they understand it’s no use trying to construct an argument with a shovel and a wheelbarrow?

Flying lady of the weekend: Bric-a-brac dealer Jean (Sally Lindsay) took one look at a walking stick on The Madame Blanc Mysteries (C5) and spotted its handle was a ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ from a Rolls-Royce, cast in solid gold. You’d notice if one of those turned up on the Antiques Roadshow.


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