CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on last night’s TV: Starving peasants? These actors are sipping lattes 

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The Gallow’s Pole (BBC2)


The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1) 


David has walked from Birmingham, that much is clear. ‘I walked from Birmingham,’ he told his sister-in-law Gwen.

‘He walked from Birmingham,’ Gwen told her sister Grace. ‘He walked from Birmingham?’ Grace repeated, checking she’d got her facts straight. Later, Gwen’s husband asked David where he’d been. ‘Birmingham,’ David announced.

There must be something in the Yorkshire water, on The Gallows Pole (BBC2), because an hour later Grace was still confused. ‘Where have you been?’ she asked David. Guess what he replied.

Either the entire extended family in this 18th-century village are suffering from acute short-term memory loss, or the actors are struggling with their dialogue.

The Gallows Pole is loosely based on a novel by Benjamin Myers, which itself is based on the historical legend of a gang of starving weavers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, who turned to forgery and counterfeiting.

Michael Socha stars as David Hartley in The Gallow's Pole (BBC2)  alongside Sophie McShera as his wife Grace

Michael Socha stars as David Hartley in The Gallow’s Pole (BBC2)  alongside Sophie McShera as his wife Grace

Not that you’d guess any of that from the first of this three-part series, which, to put it mildly, took a while to get going. 


Soaps tend to kill off characters callously. But the EastEnders (BBC1) death of Lola (Danielle Harold) from a brain tumour has been handled with deep sensitivity — and the grief of husband Jay (Jamie Borthwick) was almost too much to bear.

The first five minutes consisted of a man walking from Birmingham in a blood-drenched shirt, dragging a bag of blacksmith’s tools behind him and fending off hallucinations of demons with stags’ antlers.

Captions flashed up on screen, warning us of ‘canals dug out by children’ as ‘factories lay waste to the land’.

When David (Michael Socha) finally reached home, delirious from an infected stab wound, the villagers crowded round the house, loudly explaining to each other where he’d been. Did I mention Birmingham?

Director Shane Meadows — who describes himself, in Georgian Gothic lettering on the credits, as the Purvey’r of Scenes — made his name in the Noughties with This Is England, a movie about a gang of young skinheads. Starring Stephen Graham and Vicky McClure, much of its dialogue was improvised.

He’s trying the same technique here but, without clear direction or scripted lines, many of the inexperienced cast are floundering. They stand frozen, visibly grasping for something to say, and too often repeating each other, like a student improv class. When David came up with the sentiment, ‘F*** the King!’, they all fell on it greedily, squawking it like parrots.

During a halting row with David, Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera, as Grace, came up with the most telling line. ‘Why’d you do a big pause?’ she demanded. ‘You’re doing a big pause, it sounds like a lie.’

Presenter Sara Pascoe with judges Patrick Grant and Esme Young of the Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1)

Presenter Sara Pascoe with judges Patrick Grant and Esme Young of the Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1)

Without a script, the plot doesn’t develop, and without a plot I became distracted — wondering why these penniless villagers all had fresh skin, well-kempt hair and white linen. They didn’t look hungry: they looked like they’d been sipping oat milk lattes between takes.

We can thank the Industrial Revolution and its factories for The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1), which is filmed at a former wool mill called Sunny Banks near Leeds.

After a perfectly paced opening episode last week, we already feel as though we know the contestants — each one got just enough screen time, with well-chosen glimpses of their personalities.

The sewing challenges, making a rucksack and a swimsuit, are almost incidental as we learn more about them. Fauve is an international golfer, Mia makes stained glass, Matthew works as an entertainer on cruise ships.

A holiday theme ran through the show, with blasts of sunny music from the Undertones, Eddie Cochran, Donovan and many more. In one task, judge Esme Young demanded outfits created from the colourful plastic of beach windbreaks.

‘This is a sculptural fabric,’ she announced. I’ve no idea what that means, but the Bee is a reliable joy.

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