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TV review: Moving On; Eyes Down! The Story of Bingo

Flick around the TV channels any afternoon, and soon they all begin to resemble the amorphous sludge that is ITV2. The exception to this rule is BBC1, which regularly serves up original, innovative, interesting postprandial drama – complete with a respectable budget and decent production values – such as The Indian Doctor, Nick Nickleby and Father Brown.

And the best of the strand, Moving On, has returned with a fourth series of stand-alone, contemporary dramas.

Monday’s episode, The Shrine, was a bittersweet tale of death, bereavement, loss, guilt and property values. Matthew Kelly and Barbara Flynn starred as homeowners John and Carol, keen to realise the highest price for the property that will fund their change of life, who witness a fatal accident from their bedroom window.

The couple’s initial compassion for the grieving widow begins to subside when the floral tribute she builds outside their house has a negative effect on potential buyers. Worse still, the local community embraces the shrine as a focus for their own grief, swelling it considerably in size and threatening to make it a permanent feature. And as John and Carol’s estate agent is quick to point out, nothing dampens enthusiasm for a property quite like an enormous memento mori on the doorstep.

[pullquote]Monday’s episode of Moving On was a bittersweet tale of death, bereavement, loss, guilt and property values[/pullquote]

Karen Brown’s concise script twists between high farce, dark humour and searing tragedy as it chronicles an essentially decent couple’s attempts to exercise a modest degree of self-interest while besieged by collective sorrow, self-righteous indignation and moral opprobrium.

Great performances from the whole cast, with Kelly and Flynn outstanding as the hapless householders eventually forced to take matters into their own hands.

Narrated by Sarah Lancashire, Eyes Down! The Story of Bingo was a terrific documentary concerning a pastime whose popularity peaked in the 1960s, when a quarter of the population played regularly, but today still boasts more punters in its halls than professional football has fans on its terraces.

A popular wartime diversion among the armed forces, from where much of the colourful ‘bingo lingo’ is derived, bingo – also known as ‘housey housey’ and ‘lotto’ – really took off when liberalisation of the UK gambling laws combined with an increase in disposable income among the working classes.

But it wasn’t just the new cash prizes that bingo halls offered to its predominantly female patrons. There was also safety, sociability and independence to be found there. Entertainment too, with the callers having to develop their own brand of patter to fill any longueurs between cards.

Declining mass market entertainment, such as cinema and theatre, first surrendered its audiences and then its buildings to the bingo juggernaut. A telling piece of archive footage showed a young actress from the Theatre Royal Margate rep company begrudgingly concede that sharing the venue with bingo organisers helped keep the space open, while bewailing the vulgarity of promoters who thought nothing of fly-posting their adverts all over its hallowed, listed walls.

Mr Selfridge is a bold, opulent, big-budget series written by the estimable Andrew Davies and performed by a talented cast headed by Jeremy Piven, a bona fide American star. So how come it keeps reminding me of Acorn Antiques?

Moving On, BBC1, Monday, January 28 to Friday, February 1, 2.15pm
Eyes Down! The Story of Bingo, BBC4, Wednesday, January 30, 9pm
Mr Selfridge, ITV1, Sunday, January 27, 9pm

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