Gloriously un-PC: Ronan Bennett’s Top Boy reviewed

Is the drug/gangs genre the last island of authenticity and candour on TV?

The boys are back in town: Kane Robinson as Sully and Ashley Walters as Dushane in Top Boy. Credit: Chris Harris/Netflix

Sir Lenny Henry, the former comedian, is wont to complain to anyone who’ll listen that there isn’t enough ‘diversity’ on TV. Really, he should watch Top Boy (Netflix). Apart from the odd token walk-on whitey — skanky crack addicts, nasty immigration officers — it’s wall-to-wall BAME casting opportunities. The protagonist, Dushane (Ashley Walters), is black. So are all his friends, family and associates (his mandem, as they are colloquially known). So, mostly, is the urban music soundtrack, the work of various grime artists curated by the show’s co-producer, Canadian rapper Drake.

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Letting China join the WTO was the worst decision the West ever made

It’s not often that you come across a book that completely transforms your understanding of the world. Just recently I’ve read two. One, Tom Holland’s Dominion concerns the debt we all owe — not just vicars and popes but atheists and social justice warriors — to Christianity’s revolutionary (and frankly still shocking) message that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The other, China, Trade and Power by Stewart Paterson, is about a seismic event in 2001, three months to the day after 9/11, which shook the world to a degree few remotely comprehend.

Almost none of us is familiar with that epochal moment, yet it changed everything and explains everything: the Blair/Brown spending bubble; Australia’s prosperity; Mexico’s gangland hell; the 2008 crash; the rise of Donald Trump; Momentum, Antifa and the only problem with communism being that it hasn’t been tried properly yet; Brexit; your smart phone; protectionism; the price of houses; the crowds at Bicester Village; the riots in Hong Kong…

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With these documentaries, the BBC has lost any claim to impartiality

Its treatment of the Nazis, and of George Soros, shows that the channel is no longer interested in objectivity.

Camp Commandant Hilmar Wäckele at Dachau Concentration Camp in BBC2’s Rise of the Nazis Credit: BBC/72 Films/Lukas Salna
Because the rise of the Nazis is a topic so rarely mentioned these days, least of all in schools, the BBC has produced a helpful three-part explainer of that title (BBC2, Mondays) showing why the story of Hitler is even more relevant today than it was in the 1930s.

Back in the day, the BBC might have been content to strive for an objective take on the subject, perhaps with a voiceover by Samuel West and lots of period footage. But the danger of that approach, the BBC has since realised, is that it runs the risk of viewers making up their own minds what to think. Some of them might not be aware, for example, of the obvious parallels between Hitler, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Brexit and, to a lesser extent, Michael Gove.

How to beat the autumn blues


You know that awful, gnawing, depressing feeling you’ve got right now? The one that notices how shockingly early the sun is setting and how shabby and played out and autumnal the borders are looking and how listless and flat everything feels what with no holidays to look forward to and the house empty of kids? The one that groans at the thought of all those uncompleted tasks and the mountain of hassle and nose-to-the-grindstone grimness which must be negotiated, somehow, between now and Christmas?

Well, I hate to say this but I haven’t got it. For possibly the first time in my life since my parents shipped me off to that horrid, spartan boarding school I called Colditz, I’m experiencing early September without the faintest urge to want to kill myself. I’m not thinking back wistfully to those calamari in the taverna by that secluded inlet or the fat, red ripeness of those Italian tomatoes or the azure stillness of the Mediterranean on that first morning dip because this summer hols, for once, I didn’t do any of that stuff.

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I like Brassic but the reason it’s getting such glowing notices is depressing

Joe Gilgun as Vinnie in Sky One’s Brassic. Image: Matt Squire

Sky One’s comedy drama is an x-rated Last of the Summer Wine but the lead character’s mental illness is sadly what excites most reviewers.

Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers?

You’ll be depressed when I tell you.

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When did English A-level become a science?

Now that my youngest has got her A-level grades, I’m finally free to say just how much I have loathed the past 20 or so years I have spent helping my children with their English homework.

This is a sad admission. After all, I studied English at university and still love reading classic literature and learning poetry by heart. But when I read that the number of 18-year-olds taking English A-level has plummeted to its lowest level since 2001 I wasn’t at all surprised. If I were that age, I’m not sure I’d choose to do English either.

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Jeremy Deller’s right: acid house changed Britain forever

The artist’s BBC4 documentary Everybody in the Place: an Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 was a plea for tolerance and understanding

Amnesia rave, Coventry, 1991. Image: Tony Davis / Pymca / Shutterstock
Amnesia rave, Coventry, 1991. Image: Tony Davis / Pymca / Shutterstock

Jeremy Deller’s Everybody in the Place: an Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 (BBC4) began with some footage of kids queuing up outside a warehouse rave in Stoke-on-Trent in 1991. It was at once banal and extraordinary: everyone was white; nobody was overweight; none of the clothes were designer, expensive or branded; nobody wore facial hair. This was the England of my late youth and I remember it vividly. But it feels so remote from the present that it might just as well have been a lithograph of extravagantly side-burned men in stiff woollens captioned: ‘The Camp before Balaklava’.

Deller is probably a bit more left-wing than me — how could he not be? He’s a conceptual artist whose most famous work is a meditation on the miners’ strike — I do agree with his thesis that the birth of acid house was the revolutionary moment that changed Britain forever. He illustrated this with scenes of Northern ravers clubbing in disused factories, marking what he called the ‘death ritual transformation of Britain from an industrial to a service economy’.

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A gang of sheep rustlers is stalking the county – who will be the next target?

Though autumn is happily still some way off, we’ve already reached that stage in the shepherd’s calendar when full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn. In fact they now look bigger than their mothers. The easiest way of differentiating the ewes from the lambs is that the latter still have their fleeces while the former are shorn and look thoroughly careworn and knackered from having to feed their demanding and needy adolescents long after it’s strictly necessary.

What’s rather spoiling my nature notes at the moment, though, is the nagging fear that next time I venture out into the fields on my morning walk with the dog, our pastoral idyll will have been reduced to a bloody shambles of discarded entrails and severed heads.

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The reason Gomorrah is one of the best series ever shown on TV is its fidelity to truth

Patrizia (Cristiana Dell’Anna) in Series 4 of Gomorrah
Patrizia (Cristiana Dell’Anna) in Series 4 of Gomorrah

Some of the killings are so heartbreaking you half-wonder how decency could possibly allow such horror as TV entertainment.

My favourite epithet about my favourite TV series was the headline in a review by the Irish Times: ‘Gomorrah. Where characters die before they become characters.’

The review appeared to suggest that this was a bad thing. But I disagree. What made Game of Thrones so original and compelling, especially in the early seasons, was its refreshing willingness to break convention by murdering key players at the drop of a hat.

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God, I Hate Wasps!

Halfway up the back stairs on a ledge is the body of a wasp so big it’s either a queen or some kind of hornet. I’ve left it there as a warning to other wasps and also because I enjoy the weird effect it has on me. Even though obviously I know it’s there, every time I pass it its shape triggers in me an involuntary shudder: the sinister curve of its abdomen, articulated like plate armour; the warning yellow and black; the horrible sharp black stinger which you can just imagine jabbing into your skin. God I hate wasps!

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