Babylon Berlin Is So Brilliant I’d Advise You Not to Start Watching It

Image: Sky Atlantic

This TV masterpiece about Weimar Germany will eat up 16 hours of your life.

Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic), the epic German-made Euro noir detective drama set during Weimar, is so addictively brilliant that I’d almost advise you not to start watching it. After the two seasons to date you’ll be left feeling like the morphine-addicted hero Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) when deprived of his fix.

That’s because they haven’t even started making season three yet, so you’ll have an excruciatingly long wait to see what becomes of its cast of immensely captivating characters: Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth), Rath’s corrupt, lying, whoring but affable sidekick; the treacherous White Russian Countess (Severija Janusauskaite), who dresses as a man for her floor-filling cabaret act; Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), the gorgeous flapper and occasional tart from the slums whose hopeless ambition it is to join the murder squad of the Berlin police; the Armenian gangster; Benda, the elegant, principled Jewish police chief; the sweet, Tintin-like student with the deaf parents.

Some of these characters, I should warn you, may not survive that far. Volker Kutscher, who wrote the novels on which the series is based, has a similar disregard for the sanctity of his characters’ lives as Thrones’s George R.R. Martin.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

How Did I Learn Women Are Superior? From a Burst Water Pipe

In theory a burst water pipe ought to be largely in the male domain.


‘It’s always me who gets the worst of it,’ said the Fawn, surveying the wreckage caused by the burst water pipe. I did not disagree a) because I would have had my head bitten off and b) because it’s true.

Though I wouldn’t say I was completely useless: who was the first to spot the water gushing through the ceiling of the guest bedroom, eh? And who was the first to find the stopcock using the time-honoured method of running up and down the stairs for ten minutes screaming: ‘Where the hell is the stopcock?’ But it’s probably fair to say that the Fawn bore — and continues to bear — the brunt of the crisis.

In theory a burst water pipe ought to be largely in the male domain. But once you’ve got the man stuff out of the way — move furniture, place strategic buckets, call a plumber and find he can’t come for three days — the aftermath is pretty much woman’s territory.

I’m thinking of the business of dealing with the mounds of accumulated sodden linen, plus a weekend’s worth of unwashed clothes; drying the mattresses; airing the rooms; running a household with a crap husband and two useless teenagers when there’s no mains water.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

I Didn’t Realise Petra Was an Ad for Merkel’s Immigration Policy: Civilisations Reviewed

Politics aside, Simon Schama has the makings of a first-rate TV historian.

Simon Schauma
Simon Schama at Trappenhaus, Residenz, Wurzburg looking at fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Gian Domenico Tiepolo, 1752-3 (Photo: Nutopia)

Most of the history I know and remember comes from my inspirational prep school teacher Mr Bradshaw. History was taught so much better in those days. It was all kings and queens, battles and dates, with no room for any of that nonsense like,‘Imagine you are a suffragette going to protest the oppressive male hegemony at the races. Describe how it feels to be crushed by the king’s horse.’

Nor was there any question that you were participating in some kind of collaborative learning experience. Your ‘master’ taught; you listened and learned — and occasionally made distracting jokes and got bits of chalk chucked at you. That was the deal and it worked very well. This was the tail end of the era defined by programmes like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation: one still confident enough to imagine that there are such things as good and bad art, superior and inferior cultures, right and wrong judgments.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

Even Being Pro-Trump Didn’t Lose Me as Many Friends as Being Pro-Brexit

How warped do you have to be to ditch your mates for voting Leave?

(image: Getty)

When I mentioned on social media recently that I’d lost friends because of Brexit, I was quite surprised by the vehemence of the response. Lots of fellow Leavers had stories to tell about friends who now cut them dead or former clients who would no longer work with them. Many said they prefer to keep secret how they voted in the referendum for fear of the repercussions.

This intolerance is especially bad if you’re a student. One undergraduate described to me how his politics professor had opened a lecture with a slide reading ‘Brexit is shit’ — apparently ‘to the cheers and adulation of the entire lecture theatre’. Another student interviewed by the BBC a few months ago, described how she had overheard two students talking about her as they left a lecture: ‘I just want to punch that Brexit bitch.’

Read the rest in the Spectator.

David Hare Is the Kind of Second-Rate Artist Who Flourished under Stalin

His only real talent is toeing the party line – which is probably why his feeble detective drama Collateral, with its right-on politics, attracted such a starry cast.

Carey Milligan
Carey Mulligan (image: BBC1)

Shortly after my rave review of McMafia eight weeks ago, I got a long message from an old friend chastising me for being so horribly wrong. Could I not see that the series was boring, convoluted and badly acted? Was I aware of how many better series there had been on Amazon and Netflix recently because, if I wasn’t, she could give me a few recommendations…

Several other people wrote to me in a similar vein and I felt terrible. Life is short and TV production is so voluminous these days that now more than ever we need critics to sift the bullion from the dross. Sure, reviews are a snap judgment, usually based on just one episode and written under pressure. Even so, if you can’t be trusted to get it right, say, 90 per cent of the time, that makes you a critical fail.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

Extreme Pain, of the Purest Intensity, Changes Everything

I’m on morphine, which makes it hard to write or achieve anything useful.
Since my pulmonary embolism a couple of years ago, I have become something of a connoisseur of pain. The agony — a deep ache of the purest intensity — is caused by the pressure of a blood clot on the highly sensitive membrane of the lungs. It’s so exquisite it’s almost a religious experience. Your world is pain; all you want to do is to curl into a foetal ball and allow the earth to swallow you up: anything to make it stop. Mothers who’ve experienced it tell me it’s worse than giving birth.

I never wanted to go through such pain again but this week I nearly did: completely out of the blue and for no reason I could think of. One day I was feeling a bit achy in the upper back; the next it was worse; the day after that, it hurt so much I almost wanted to cry out to my Mummy and beg her to make it go away.

Unfortunately the last coincided with my appearance at the Durham Union in a debate about Brexit. Perhaps in normal circumstances, it might have been quite dispiriting hearing Anna Soubry come on after me and announce to the audience, in that charming, winning way she has, how crap my speech was and how utterly ignorable my opinions were, given all I’d ever achieved in life (apparently) was to have ‘once been a Telegraph journalist’. But on this occasion I couldn’t have cared less — nor even if we had won or lost.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

The Worst Thing about Piers Morgan Is That He Deserves His Success

James Delingpole can’t think of a person on earth who could have done a better job interviewing Trump.
Piers Morgan

Perhaps you missed the fuss because there has been so little publicity about it. But last week, at Davos, the President of the United States was granted the extraordinary privilege of an audience with Britain’s leading interviewer, media communicator and cultural icon, the David Frost de nos jours Piers Morgan.

On Sunday night we finally saw the result and what an unbelievable masterpiece of a scoop it was. We knew this because every few minutes the show’s star kept popping up in voiceover form to tell us.

‘I knew the first international televised interview with President Trump was going to be special. But I hadn’t expected the commander-in-chief to be quite so candid,’ Piers congratulated himself at one point.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

How the Rat Sniffed out £15,000 down the Back of My Virtual Sofa

Virtual currency found down the back of a virtual sofa

Not being cursed with any of my genetic make-up, he possesses certain special qualities that I lack

It must be about 25 years since the Rat first made an appearance in The Spectator. He started out as my girlfriend’s six-year-old boy, then became my stepson and featured here quite often over the years because, being a scaly-tailed creature of evil, he was always good for some copy. This new year, with his agreement, I upgraded him to full son status. Let me explain why in a way that I hope you’ll find charming, rather than one that makes you want to throw up.

The first reason is purely mercenary. During Christmas, while over with his wife Chloe from Hong Kong, the Rat managed to find about £10,000 down the back of my virtual sofa, in the form of seven Bitcoin Cash that I thought I’d lost forever. Then he found another half a Bitcoin (BTC) which I also thought I’d lost, bringing the total free money found to well over £15,000.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

Is Britannia Really in the Game of Thrones’s League?

Britannia, starring Kelly Reilly (image: SKY)

The problem with Jez Butterworth’s series for Sky Atlantic is it can never stop smirking at its own irreverence

It’s a terrible thing for a TV critic to admit but I just don’t know what to make of Britannia, the new Sky Atlantic drama set during the Roman invasion of Britain, scripted by Jez Butterworth, starring a top-notch cast including David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker and Mackenzie Crook, and heavily touted as the next Game of Thrones.

Is it really in the Thrones’s league? I’d say not. You remember how Thrones started, all those seasons ago: the scouting party in the creepy frozen wood; the dead child with milky-blue glowing eyes; the shockingly draconian punishment meted out by Ned Stark to the party’s sole survivor. Within the first ten minutes it was all there: the gnawing tension, the ‘anyone can die’ cruelty and horror. But perhaps most important of all was the absolute seriousness. Here was a swords-and-sorcery epic determined never to sell itself short through flippancy or self-parody.

Read the rest in the Spectator.