David Suchet sits in stately elegance in his trailer on the set of the latest and final Poirot adaptation at the start of his Perspectives (ITV, Sundays). In that rich, actorly voice, the one that sounds like a lorry rumbling in the distance through a country lane, he explains: “I’m half in and half out of character… I’ve just taken my moustache off. With it I would be Hercule Poirot. I know this man, Agatha Christie’s famous creation… but how well do I, David Suchet, know Poirot’s creator?” And how much do I, Alison Graham, care? You’re an actor. A good one, of course, and your Poirot is probably the definitive Poirot. But that’s your job.
Perspectives is ITV’s post-South Bank Show nod to its responsibility to deliver at least a heavily sugared teaspoonful of arts coverage. But each episode is celebrity driven – in the last series David Walliams indulged his passion for Roald Dahl, while future editions will feature programmes by Warwick Davis, Sheila Hancock and Paul O’Grady. Thus every Perspectives episode always ends up being about the celeb. Agatha Christie is seen through a David Suchet prism, which means we get an exclamation of delight when Suchet is told of how Christie used to read her manuscripts aloud. “When I learn my lines, I always have to speak them out loud as well!” Really? WOW!
It’s not a particularly informative programme, skimming lightly over Christie’s life, a well-trodden path in TV documentaries and even feature films, including her mysterious disappearance and re-emergence at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Everyone must know about that by now, surely? Still, Suchet goes to Harrogate where he pointlessly sits in a towelling robe in a steam room to ponder what really happened. Answer – no one knows.
Suchet is not the only actor given precious airtime in which to be himself. Following on from Ade in Britain (Adrian Edmondson) and Caroline Quentin’s Cornwall, we have James Nesbitt’s Ireland (Monday 8pm ITV, not Wales). It is as informative and interesting as James Nesbitt’s Airing Cupboard or James Nesbitt’s Gas Central Heating Boiler would be. It’s just Nesbitt (and you can bet ITV gave him his own travel series as a present after it dumped the excellent Monroe) drinking Guinness (groan) as he says the word “stunning” a lot. “A thousand miles of stunning coastline… an emerald green landscape steeped in history.”
Yes, fine, I’m sure Ireland is all of these things, but then James Nesbitt’s Ireland becomes little more than a series of advertorials for small businesses – an ice-cream maker, a guest house – and trips to tourist sites such as Blarney Castle. Where’s the knowledge? Where’s the insight? Where’s the information?
How is it James Nesbitt’s Ireland? If the programme is nothing more than a series of limp travelogue clichés set to a background of winkety-wink music then it could be my Ireland or your Ireland or Buzz Lightyear’s Ireland. Nesbitt does nothing that thousands of tourists don’t do every year. It would be quicker for ITV simply to send us all postcards from Dublin signed by Nesbitt with “It’s nice here.” I’m dreading future episodes. Will he talk about leprechauns and shamrock as someone sings Paddy McGinty’s Goat?
It might be his Ireland because he likes it, but that doesn’t confer any kind of special status or insight. Neither does simply being born somewhere. Alison Graham’s Middlesbrough would kill you with its dullness.
I, Alison Graham, can promise you that.
Perspectives is at 10pm on Sundays on ITV, James Nesbitt’s Ireland is at 8pm on Mondays