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Royal influence

02 January 2015

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FOR my money, there is now only one genuine religious programme each year on the main TV channels. There are, of course, programmes about religion, which pointlessly attempt to explore this or that incident in the Bible as though it were history rather than theologically profound myth.

And there are, throughout the year, a few live broadcasts of the enormous number of superlative acts of worship in which our nation leads the world; but is there more than one programme in which a reasoned testimony is made of the centrality of faith in a person's life, and a gentle appeal is made for us to share in those values?

Once again, The Queen, Her Majesty's annual Christmas address to the nation and the people of the Commonwealth (BBC1, Christmas Day), has shown us how it can be done. She offered us a superlative tour through the widest range of material, from Coventry Cathedral's ministry of reconciliation to the centenary of the First World War, the Christmas Truce, the Commonwealth Games, her visit to the Crumlin Road prison in Belfast, the Scottish referendum, and the volunteer aid workers caring for Ebola-virus victims - all climaxing in her testimony to the Prince of Peace as "the model and inspiration in my life".

ITV offered a seasonal morality tale in Lottery Stories: Be careful what you wish for (Tuesday of last week). Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Lottery, it followed the stories of a handful of the 3700-plus people who have won a million or more. We heard the expected tales of a spending binge followed by the break-up of marriage, the hopeless financial decisions that have left millionaires bankrupt, those whose winnings made them the target of tabloid spite and antagonism.

Some reckoned, however, that wealth had brought them not a little happiness, and, weirdly, the most powerful moral example was not the Sheffield couple who have given away £5 million of the £7.6 million they won, and who spend time with those whom their largesse is assisting, but Mikey, the Norfolk binman who blew £9.7 million in drink, drugs, and orgies. But, after attempting suicide, he was helped to start a new job, and says that he is far happier earning a simple honest wage.

Two excellent comedies, both deserving classic status: first, The Wrong Mans (BBC2, Monday and Tuesday of last week), which presented another adventure in the lives of Bracknell's finest, the über-hapless Sam and Phil. The central joke is that Phil is an entirely hopeless fantasist who lives his life consumed by the fictions of film, TV, and video - and gets caught up in precisely this supercharged world of crime, drug-running, and trafficking.

Even better was BBC1's The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (Christmas Eve), in which a starry cast brought to life the slapstick anarchy of the books. This was a treat: the dastardly plot of building a munitions factory in the centre of the idyllic Pagwell trounced by innocence and tomfoolery. It was a celebration of the enduring appeal of English eccentricity, its sentimentalities kept in check by mad inventions and explosions galore.

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