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TV review: Nolly, Amol Rajam Interviews Bill Gates, and Putin vs the West

10 February 2023


Nolly (ITVX, Thursday of last week) charted the career of Noele Gordon, who starred in Crossroads

Nolly (ITVX, Thursday of last week) charted the career of Noele Gordon, who starred in Crossroads

POWER in all its guises was on display in this week’s television. The delightful Nolly (ITVX, Thursday of last week) charted the career of Noele Gordon, known as the Queen of the Midlands, from her appearance on the first colour TV broadcast to her defenestration from the soap opera Crossroads, in which she had starred as Meg Mortimer.

Helena Bonham Carter defied all typecasting to inhabit the role of the star, nicknamed Nolly, capturing both her imperiousness on set, where she altered lines on a whim, and her vulnerability off camera, spending evenings watching TV and eating sandwiches off a tray. An early scene is a location broadcast in a church — Meg’s wedding — besieged by fans eager to blur the line between fiction and reality.

Nolly’s two trump cards were her popularity with Crossroads viewers and her close friendship with the Crossroads actor Tony Adams, played with maximum theatricality and pace by Augustus Prew. While people-power was unable to save her role, Gordon’s friendship with Adams survived professional disappointment. Adams’s recollections are the wellspring for the drama.

Written by Russell T. Davies, Nolly ramped up the flamboyance of 1970s regional TV drama production with fur coats, gold-embossed telephones, and fringed lampshades; and this tapped into the power of nostalgia more artfully than a documentary approach. Television dramas about television dramas can be self-referential, but Nolly came from a place of affection for a series that marked the transition from schoolday or workday to family time for millions of viewers. Crossroads shaped perceptions, gave glimpses of how life might be, and presented disability, bereavement, adultery, and infertility as everyday topics, not taboos. It deserved this starry treatment.

Brain power was the core of Amol Rajan Interviews Bill Gates (BBC2, Friday), and the way in which Mr Gates had parlayed intellect into political power, interrogating leaders of developing countries on how efficiently they were spending his malaria aid money. Mr Gates declared that he believed in God “somewhat”. Although he failed to persuade President Trump to contribute funds to high-impact science goals, “I don’t feel bad for trying.”

The interviewer masked his unease about asking Mr Gates about infidelity by speaking at double speed. Uncomfortable questions have the power to trip up even the most practised media performers.

Norma Percy’s elegant documentary Putin vs the West (BBC2, Monday of last week) posed no direct questions to its subject, Vladimir Putin, instead letting those who had experienced him at first hand describe their encounters. Celebrations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day and Ukraine’s democratic choice of alignment with the EU provided cover in 2014 for the Russian President to invade Crimea with “little green men” and stir up separatist sentiment.

President Obama’s labelling Putin’s power as “regional”, far from containing the dictator, only inflamed Putin’s determination to exercise his power’s terrible reach.

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