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Sunday, 23 December 2018

Grantchester - Returns 11th January

Grantchester starring Robson Green and James Norton, and new cast member Tom Brittney, returns to ITV for a fourth series in a co-production from Kudos and MASTERPIECE on PBS.

James Norton, who plays the charismatic, jazz-loving clergyman, Sidney Chambers, will make his final appearance during the series. Clergyman Will Davenport, played by Tom Brittney, becomes DI Geordie Keating's new crime-solving partner in 1950s Grantchester.

Episode 1

It's 1956 and with Amanda long gone, Sidney's life now revolves around the church services and the interminable meetings of the Parochial Council and their plans for a village fete. He yearns for some excitement, and Geordie has noticed that Sidney's devil-may-care attitude feels increasingly like a death wish.

In need of spiritual sustenance, Sidney and Leonard go to hear inspirational civil rights activist Reverend Nathaniel Todd talk in Cambridge as part of a fundraising tour. Todd is accompanied by his son Charles, daughter Violet, and fellow activist Robert DeVeaux. Professor Barkley and his wife Madhia host their stay, and while at their house, Leonard introduces Sidney to an old friend, Will Davenport. Will is the current Chaplain at Corpus Christi, following in Sidney's footsteps. Sidney strikes up a conversation with beautiful, vibrant Violet Todd and sparks soon fly.

At the talk, Nathaniel's impassioned speech invigorates Sidney until he is interrupted by a racist young student, Gregory Jones, who verbally attacks the pastor. Chaos then erupts and what sound like gunshots ring through the church as fireworks are thrown by protestors. Sidney, Leonard, Will, the Barkleys and the Todds are all almost crushed by the crowd trying to escape. Finally, Will breaks open the door and they spill out of the church... but Charles Todd staggers forward, stabbed by an unseen assailant, and dies in his father's arms.

As Geordie and Sidney set about finding the killer, Reverend Todd wrestles with his grief, Violet steels herself to speak out, Sidney wrestles with his growing feelings for her – and Leonard has a poem prepared for the village fete...


Sidney Chambers - JAMES NORTON
Geordie Keating - ROBSON GREEN
Will Davenport - TOM BRITTNEY
Leonard Finch - AL WEAVER
Jack Chapman - NICK BRIMBLE
Daniel Marlowe - OLIVER DIMSDALE
Violet Todd - SIMONA BROWN
Reverend Nathaniel Todd - PATERSON JOSEPH
Professor Henry Barkley - SAMUEL WEST
Madhia Barkley - SANDRA TELES
Charles Todd - TOK STEPHEN
Larry Peters - BRADLEY HALL

Saturday, 22 December 2018

BBC Two’s Masterchef: The Professionals 2018 winner revealed

Laurence Henry, 26, has become MasterChef: The Professionals Champion 2018, it has been announced.
The youngest of this year’s finalists, Laurence is the twelfth winner to be awarded the prestigious title, and become part of Professional MasterChef history, along with outstanding past champions: Gary Maclean; Derek Johnstone; Steve Groves; Claire Lara; Ash Mair, joint winners Keri Moss and Anton Piotrowski; Steven Edwards; Jamie Scott; Mark Stinchcombe and last year’s winner, Craig Johnston.

Taking on 47 fellow professional chefs in the pursuit of culinary perfection, Laurence battled through seven weeks of fierce competition and extraordinary cooking in the demanding challenges. As well as impressing Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing, renowned chef Monica Galetti and MasterChef’s seasoned judge Gregg Wallace, Laurence also received critical acclaim throughout the series. Bringing food critic Jay Rayner to a stunned halt when he said, “I have absolutely nothing critical to say” whilst critiquing his lamb dish during The Critic’s round. Further acclaim came from Paul Ainsworth in Knockout Week, who titled Laurence 'man of the match' when the contestants cooked at his restaurant in Cornwall. Whilst during The Chefs’ Table, after Laurence’s lobster and dumpling dish was served, Lisa Goodwin-Allen said, “It puts a smile on your face…it is beautiful”, Michael Wignall called the dish “stunning” and Glynn Purnell was reduced to just one word, “wow”.

Reacting to his win, Laurence says: “It has been a really long journey, I have certainly learnt a lot about myself and found my feet. With this kind of ending who knows what the future holds; it is just so exciting. Hopefully though this is the first step in the long road to the chef I want to be one day.”

Monica Galetti says: “Laurence is a chef who cooks from the heart. He is such a talented chef and the world is his to conquer. He has confidence and a true understanding of flavour. What a future this young chef has.”

Marcus Wareing says: “The food Laurence has cooked for us during the competition has been outstanding. He is inventive, creative and he leaves nothing behind in the kitchen. He gave it his all and his work ethic and professionalism is fantastic, as a chef you couldn’t ask for more in the kitchen. In my opinion he is the next generation.”

Gregg Wallace says: “For a chef so young he is an immense talent. He has a hunger for knowledge and he is willing to push himself until he accomplishes greatness.”

The gruelling Final Week saw Laurence up against exceptionally tough competition in fellow finalists Dean Banks, 30, and Oli Martin, 30. Laurence fought to prove his passion, grit, imagination and technical ability beyond that of his competitors throughout increasingly demanding tasks, which pushed all their culinary skills to their upmost limits.

The challenges included: designing and preparing a menu for the heavyweights of modern gastronomy from around the world with 24 Michelin-stars between them; travelling to Valence, in France, to cook at one of the world’s most exciting and innovative restaurants and learn from Anne Sophie Pic, one of the world’s leading chefs with three Michelin-stars and the fourth generation of one of the greatest cooking dynasties the world has ever seen.

The ultimate, final task was to create an exceptional three-course meal for judges Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and Gregg Wallace in three hours. Laurence, who pushed himself to the max with his winning menu, which he said reflected “the most accurate representation of the food he wants to be cooking”, started with a Hand-dived scallop, marinated cherry tomatoes (inspired by his time with Anne Sophie Pic), roast tomato dashi, strawberries and coriander oil seasoned with sansho pepper. His main was Loin and belly of suckling pig, kimchi glaze, braised fermented hispi cabbage hearts, Nashi pear puree and sliced pears. Dessert was Aerated mint white chocolate, lemongrass and coconut ice cream, passion fruit ripple and caramelised white chocolate crumb.

Marcus Wareing, commenting on Laurence’s main pork course said: “Every now and again in a competition we all eat a dish that we will never forget. That is absolutely outstanding.”

Laurence, who grew up in Nottingham, has always been interested in food from a young age. His love for cooking led him to train as a chef at the Ashburton Chefs Academy in Devon.

On his MasterChef experience, Laurence says: “I had thought about entering the competition for a few years but this year I felt my knowledge, skills and confidence were finally at a level that could see me through. The Chefs’ Table was my most challenging moment of the competition. I have always pushed myself and given myself a lot of work to do, but during this challenge I pushed too hard, and almost didn’t make it!

“Winning the show is a dream come true. It has been the goal from day one and I’m ecstatic I’ve managed to get all the way to the end.”

Speaking about his plans for the future, Laurence says: “I still have a lot to learn in my current role so I don’t plan on moving on any time soon. I am exploring the possibility of opening my own restaurant in the future, however before all this I plan on having a bit of time off and travelling.”

Please note that applications for MasterChef: The Professionals, 2019 are now open.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Sky original production Urban Myths returns to Sky Arts with a third series

The International Emmy Awards nominated Urban Myths has been greenlit for a third series on Sky Arts. The next episode of the anthology series to be announced sees students from the National Film and Television School (NFTS) taking over the creative reigns. The series three instalment, Bleak House Guest, stars Stephen Mangan as Charles Dickens and will air in spring 2019.

The NFTS have been commissioned to make the episode as part of the school’s Bridges to Industry scheme. A first glimpse can be seen in Sky’s upcoming highlights promo which will air over the Christmas period.

Morwenna Gordon, commissioning editor for Sky said: “We’re incredibly proud of Bleak House Guest and thoroughly enjoyed the process of working with SLAM and the NFTS on this project. With Stephen Mangan, Ian Hart and Monica Dolan in front of the camera, and a talented crew of NFTS alumni, It will make a world class addition to our next series of Urban Myths.”

Jon Wardle, NFTS director said: “We are extremely grateful to Sky Arts for giving our graduates and students this opportunity to create an episode for such a high-profile series. Our Bridges to Industry scheme is such an important aspect of what we do at NFTS, and we couldn’t give our students and graduates this career enhancing experience without the continued support of our industry champions like Sky.”

Louise Delamere, producer for Slam Films said: “SLAM is delighted to have worked together with Sky and the NFTS on the Bridges to Industry initiative. This unique endeavour resulted in an Urban Myth which SLAM are incredibly proud of – not just for the quality of the programme itself but for the opportunities we were able to offer young, emerging talent.”

Bleak House Guest will join the already announced Mick and Margaret, which charts Princess Margaret’s 30-year friendship with Mick Jagger. Further details of series 3 will be announced in the new year. Previous episodes of Urban Myths have starred Gemma Arterton as Marilyn Monroe, Noel Clarke as Muhammad Ali, Anna Maxwell Martin as Agatha Christie, David Suchet as Salvador Dali and Noel Fielding as Alice Cooper.

Still Open All Hours will return to BBC One in 2019 for a sixth series

David Jason returns as Granville, the grocer with the gift of the gab, as he opens the door of Britain's favourite corner shop for a sixth series of Still Open All Hours.

There is in-tents excitement in the new series for Eric (Johnny Vegas) and Cyril (Kulvinder Ghir) when they get a little too close to nature trying to impress their wives on a camping trip. Gastric (Tim Healy) may be ready to die for love of Madge (Brigit Forsythe) but is he ready to diet? Mr Newbold (Geoffrey Whitehead)'s love life begins a new chapter after meeting Mrs Rossi (Sue Holderness) in the library, but will Mrs Featherstone (Stephanie Cole) throw the book at him if she ever finds out? Madge (Maggie Ollerenshaw) finally stands up for herself, but will anybody notice? And Kath (Sally Lindsay) stages a jumble sale starring Eric's favourite clothes. Meanwhile Leroy (James Baxter) is still longing for Beth (Katie Redford) almost as much as he's longing for a lie in. Plus there's the driving lesson of doom, a dog whispering sweet nothings, a bicycle ride full of surprises, all sorts of interesting new uses for a mangle, and the snapping drawer of that famous till.

On the forthcoming series Sir David Jason says: “It always gives me great pleasure to look forward to working with such a wonderful and talented cast and crew, kick-started by the creation of such a surreal and silly world courtesy of Roy Clarke. I am delighted that we will start filming again next year as I know we will all have fun recording each episode and that the viewers get the chance to enjoy the fun on their screens.”

BBC Commissioning Editor, Gregor Sharp, says: “There are few shows which can claim to be one of UK comedy’s crown jewels but Still Open All Hours comfortably falls into that bracket with its glittering cast and amazing heritage and we can’t wait to kneel before the new series.”

Gareth Edwards, Executive Producer, says "It's going to be an absolute joy to be back in Arkwright's, spending more time with our cast of national comic treasures and Roy Clarke's uniquely daft and delightful scripts."

Written by Roy Clarke, Still Open All Hours is a BBC Studios production, commissioned by Gregor Sharp, BBC Comedy Commissioning Editor. It is produced by Sarah Hitchcock and directed by Dewi Humphreys.

Christmas University Challenge alumni line-up announced

Christmas University Challenge is returning to BBC Two, with the 2018 line-up featuring over 50 prominent alumni from 14 universities and university colleges.

Each team will compete in one of seven first round matches, after which the four teams with the highest winning scores will face each other in two semi-finals. The winners of each of those ties will then face each other for the series crown.

Produced by ITV Studios, the series begins on BBC Two on Monday 24 December, at 8.30pm, with the first of this year’s clashes between Brasenose, Oxford and Bristol.


Brasenose, Oxford
Jessie Burton, Captain (novelist - The Miniaturist; The Muse); Andrea Brand (Professor of Molecular Biology, Cambridge; winner of the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award); Tim Harford (economist and journalist - The Financial Times; presenter of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less); Kate Bliss (antiques expert – Bargain Hunt; Flog It!; The Antiques Road Trip)

Misha Glenny, Captain (journalist and author - McMafia); Philip Ball (science writer - Critical Mass; How One Thing Leads to Another); Laura Wade (award-winning playwright - Posh; Breathing Corpses); Iain Stewart (professor and presenter of TV’s Rise of the Continents)

Danny Wallace, Captain (filmmaker, comedian, writer and presenter); Stuart Roy Clarke (documentary photographer specialising in football - Homes of Football); Torsten Schmiedeknecht (architect; Deputy Head of School of Architecture, University of Liverpool); Sophie Scott (neuroscientist and science communicator; presenter of 2017 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture)

University of East Anglia
Arthur Smith, Captain (comedian and writer); Zeb Soanes (BBC Radio 4 news presenter and children’s writer); Vicki Pepperdine (actor; Bafta-nominated writer and co-writer of BBC Four’s Getting On); Darren Bett (BBC weather forecaster)

Pembroke, Cambridge
Rick Edwards, Captain (television presenter - Impossible; Tool Academy; Podcast - Science ish); Dan Jones (historian and television presenter - Secrets of Great British Castles; columnist - London Evening Standard); Cath Bishop (rower - World Champion 2003 and Olympic silver medallist 2004 - and diplomat); Emma Johnson (clarinettist - former BBC Young Musician of the Year)

King’s London
Anita Anand, Captain (journalist, author and presenter - Any Answers?); Zoe Laughlin (artist, materials expert and science broadcaster - presenter of BBC Four’s The Secret Story of Stuff); Angela Saini (award-winning science journalist, broadcaster and author - Greek Nation; Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong); Anne Dudley (Oscar-winning composer and musician - Art of Noise)

St. Catherine’s, Oxford
Peter Knowles, Captain (controller of BBC Parliament channel, editor of Today in Parliament); Susie Boyt (novelist and a director at the Hampstead Theatre); Michael Billington (drama critic for The Guardian); Tim Webber (Emmy, Bafta and Oscar-winning visual effects specialist - Gravity)

Peterhouse, Cambridge
Michael Howard, Captain (Conservative peer, former Home Secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party); Dan Mazer (Academy award-nominated screenwriter, director and writer - Ali G; Borat); Mark Horton (archaeologist and presenter - Coast); Michael Axworthy (academic and author, specialising in Middle Eastern Studies; former Head of the Iran section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Paul Jackson, Captain (TV director and producer - The Two Ronnies; The Generation Game; Blankety Blank; Red Dwarf); Jon Kay (BBC TV news presenter and journalist); Deborah Ashby (Director of the School of Public Health, Imperial College, London; from 2019 she will be President of the Royal Statistical Society); Jessica Swale (Olivier award-winning playwright)

Chris Addison, Captain (Emmy award-winning and Perrier-nominated comedian, writer, actor - The Thick of It, Veep ); Nicola Spence (Chief Plant Health Officer at DEFRA); Lizo Mzimba (BBC entertainment correspondent); Nigel Lindsay (British Comedy Award-nominated actor - Shrek The Musical; Four Lions; Victoria)

Paul Mason, Captain (journalist and broadcaster; former Newsnight economics editor); Bryony Page (Olympic medal-winning trampoline gymnast); David Blunkett (Labour peer; former Home Secretary); Liz Watts (Kathleen Ferrier Award-winning operatic soprano)

David Aaronovitch, Captain (Journalist - currently Times columnist, former Guardian and Independent - and writer); Simon Brodkin (comedian and prankster - Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show); David Edgar (writer and playwright and cultural commentator); Matt Allwright (television presenter - Watchdog; Rogue Traders)

Mitch Benn, Captain (comedian - BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show - and writer); JJ Chalmers (TV presenter and Invictus Games athlete); Joanna Cherry (SNP MP, Edinburgh South West); Gavin Francis (GP and award-winning author - Scottish Book of the Year)

Ekow Eshun, Captain (Orwell Prize-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster); Jagjit S. Chadha (economist, former Specialist Advisor to Commons Treasury Committee); Maya Jaggi (critic, writer and literary judge); Simon Garfield (Somerset Maugham Prize-winning author and journalist)

Danny Dyer to deliver Channel 4's Alternative Christmas Message

Actor and broadcaster Danny Dyer, the unofficial man of the people, is to deliver this year’s Channel 4 Alternative Christmas Message.

Picture the scene, the post-Christmas Day kitchen carnage, rubbish everywhere, everyone fighting to be heard and nowhere to sit down and relax. Enter Danny Dyer.

Sipping tea out of a Prince Harry & Meghan Markle Royal Wedding mug, Danny reflects on a “pretty full on” year. He goes on to give his view candidly about the lack of leadership in this country.

"That shambles down in Westminster, what a palava that is. I mean where are our leaders? Where are they? There’s been more backstabbing than we have in Albert Square.”

Donald Trump doesn’t get off lightly where Danny is concerned either – he gets both barrels for both not turning up to the Armistice memorial as it was raining and for cancelling his trip to Britain.

“It ain't any better for the Yanks though is it, you know, what an absolute melt they've got there. He don't want to turn up to memorials because it's raining. He don't fancy a little trip to Britain because there's people here that just don't like him. Leave off.”

On a more positive note, Danny raises a glass to both to the heroes of 1918 to mark both 100 years since the Armistice of World War I and the victory in the fight for the women’s vote.

In the Alternative Christmas Message, which will be broadcast on Christmas Day at 3.50pm on Channel 4, Danny calls for more heroes and role models, citing his mum, Nan – and in later years, Harold Pinter, as his.

“That’s what I think we need more of, heroes, role models. If we need anything for 2019, it’s for each of us to find who we look up to. Could be your mum, could be your dad, your stepdad, your Nan, teacher, social worker. Maybe even a handsome roguish actor off your favourite soap.”

He talks of Pinter, “a father figure I didn’t even know I needed,” teaching him “that where I came from didn’t dictate where I went to” and he’s tried to pass this message on.

“I teach my girls they can be who they want to be, and I try and teach my boy to be a good man. Now don’t get me wrong, I ain’t no saint, you know, I can do better. I think we can all do better. And as dads, we can’t stop trying to do better until there’s no need for hashtags to remind us that no means no.”

He signs off with a thoughtful reflection, “Life can get a little stressful and we might get on each other’s nerves a bit, but remember how much there is to be proud of, to be grateful of, and get yourself a Harold, you know, if you can …. Merry Christmas, my loves.”

Thursday, 20 December 2018

OPERATION: LIVE - Heart-stopping Australian TV first coming to Seven

Landmark TV event on Seven in 2019 - surgery broadcast live

Coming to Channel Seven in 2019, OPERATION: LIVE is a unique TV event broadcasting life-changing operations live in their entirety from Australia’s leading hospitals.

During the two-night event, audiences will witness open-heart surgery and the birth of a baby, both in real time with a multi-camera set up capturing every compelling moment from the first incision to the very last stitch with the patient’s life in the surgeon’s hands.

Commenting on the upcoming TV event, Seven’s Director of Programming, Angus Ross, said OPERATION: LIVE would demystify exactly what unfolds during surgery and underline the brilliant work that takes place in our hospitals.

“This event will give audiences a front row seat to a fascinating world that’s normally off limits,” he said. “When the format aired in the UK, social media was flooded with questions and overwhelming praise for the medical teams involved with people completely in awe of what they had seen.

“Working with ITV Studios Australia and some of Australia’s top-tier hospitals and their elite surgeons, we’re privileged to present this innovative experience for Australian audiences.”   

OPERATION: LIVE will feature expert commentary from Australian trained cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp FRACS. Dr Stamp will explain the stages of the operation as they happen, working with the surgeon performing the operation.

One of only 11 female cardiothoracic surgeons in Australia and a leading advocate for heart health, Dr Stamp’s research has been published in numerous leading medical journals including the ANZ Journal of Surgery and the British Medical Journal.  She also teaches medical students and surgical trainees.

Alongside the drama and intricate theatre process, audiences will share the nerve-wracking wait with the patient’s closest family as they sit outside the theatre while their loved one undergoes surgery.

OPERATION: LIVE is an ITV Studios Australia production for Channel Seven.

About Seven West Media 
Seven West Media (ASX: SWM) is one of Australia’s leading integrated media companies, with a market-leading presence in broadcast television, magazine and newspaper publishing and online. 

 The company is the home to many of Australia’s leading media businesses – Seven, 7TWO and 7mate, 7flix, Pacific Magazines, The West Australian, The Sunday Times and Yahoo7, and the biggest content brands including My Kitchen Rules, House Rules, Home and Away, Sunrise, the Australian Football League, Cricket Australia, the Olympic Games, Better Homes and Gardens, marie claire, Who, PerthNow, racing.com and 7plus.

Les Misérables - Andrew Davies' six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic 19th century novel, for BBC One

Produced by Lookout Point and BBC Studios, Les Misérables is a brand new six-part adaptation of the classic 19th century book by Victor Hugo.

Adapted by the award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride And Prejudice, War And Peace), this landmark drama airing on BBC One has gone back to the novel and delved deep into the many layers of Hugo’s story, revelling in Jean Valjean and Javert’s cat-and-mouse relationship, against the epic backdrop of France at a time of civil unrest.

Les Misérables has a distinguished British cast with Dominic West (The Affair, Tomb Raider, Appropriate Adult) as Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo (Selma, Gringo, Spooks) as Javert and Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply, Tolkien, Love Rosie) as Fantine.

The cast also includes Adeel Akhtar (The Night Manager, Murdered By My Father, Utopia) and Olivia Colman (Murder On The Orient Express, The Night Manager, Broadchurch) as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, Ellie Bamber (Nocturnal Animals, Pride and Prejudice And Zombies, The Nutcracker and The Four Realms) as Cosette, Josh O’Connor (The Durrells, God’s Own Country, Ripper Street) as Marius and Erin Kellyman (Raised By Wolves, Uncle, The Coopers Vs The Rest) as Éponine.

A Lookout Point and BBC Studios production for BBC One, Les Misérables is co-produced with Masterpiece. Executive Producers are Andrew Davies, Faith Penhale (War And Peace, Doctor Who) for Lookout Point, Bethan Jones for BBC Studios (War And Peace, Sherlock). David Oyelowo and Dominic West also executive produce.

Mona Qureshi is executive producer for BBC One, Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece.

Delegate producer for Czar Film and TV is Eurydice Gysel, and the series is produced with the support of Screen Flanders and Screen Brussels.

Produced by Chris Carey (Apple Tree Yard) and directed by Tom Shankland (The Missing), the drama was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content.

Filming took place in Belgium and Northern France and it will begin on BBC One on Sunday 30 December at 9pm.

Jean Valjean - Dominic West
Javert - David Oyelowo
Fantine - Lily Collins
Madame Thénardier - Olivia Colman
Monsieur Thénardier - Adeel Akhtar
Cosette - Ellie Bamber
Marius - Josh O’Connor
Éponine - Erin Kellyman

BBC launches Congo VR, a new virtual reality documentary series

A new virtual reality documentary series from the BBC takes viewers into the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of Africa’s most dangerous and beautiful countries.

Produced by BBC VR Hub and BBC News, the new three-part series, Congo VR, is now available for free on the BBC VR app, the BBC News YouTube channel and at bbc.co.uk/virtualreality.

Congo VR is a sequel to Damming the Nile VR, the Rose D’Or-winning series that took viewers to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to explore the water politics surrounding the world’s most famous river. This time, viewers are back on assignment with BBC Africa correspondent Alastair Leithead in the DRC as he explores this conflicted country.

The first episode, titled A Troubled Past, sees viewers board a train to the nation’s vibrant capital Kinshasa, where they meet the stylish Sapeurs, who embody the capital’s energy and brash confidence. They’ll take a journey up the Congo river to join pygmies on a forest hunt, while hearing about the abuses suffered during colonial times. In the far north, viewers will visit the home of former President Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator whose luxury palace was once frequented by the rich and famous, including boxer Mohammed Ali, but now lies in ruins, lost to the jungle.

In the second episode, War and Disease, viewers join the Wagenia fishing community in Kisangani as they fish from rapids in the Congo river. That’s the last safe stop before a journey into war-torn Eastern Congo, where UN peacekeepers are attempting to deal with both terrible violence from a dangerous militant group and an Ebola outbreak. Viewers also get a glimpse of the difficult life faced by the hundreds of thousands of people in temporary camps who have been driven from their homes by violence, where everyone lives on edge.

The third and final episode, Great Riches, has viewers journey deep into the rainforest, where they come face-to-face with Eastern Lowland Gorillas, which offers a privileged close-up look at this beautiful and critically endangered animal. They’ll also visit the Congo’s mining heartland, Katanga, and consider why a country that sits on top of extraordinary mineral wealth – with cobalt, copper, gold and diamonds just below the surface – is actually one of Africa’s poorest.

Alastair Leithead, BBC Africa correspondent, says: “To take viewers on an immersive journey up the Congo River is a great opportunity for them to experience just how much more there is to this vast country than the stereotypes of war and disease. The DRC has been haunted by the image of Conrad’s novella the Heart of Darkness for more than a century, but it’s a beautiful, rich and vibrant place. Hopefully, by going on an expedition with us on the river, viewers will get a deeper understanding of the history, the challenges, and the great potential of the DRC.”

Zillah Watson, head of BBC VR Hub, says: “This wonderful follow up to the award-winning Damming the Nile VR takes you right into the heart of this dangerous but beautiful country, somewhere the vast majority of us are never likely to visit. Riding along in the UN’s armoured vehicles you can feel the very palpable sense of danger, and getting so close to the Eastern Lowland gorillas in such an immersive way is an extraordinary thing to see. That’s the beauty of VR, it can give you experiences you could never get anywhere else.”

Congo VR is now available to view for free on the BBC VR app and at bbc.co.uk/virtualreality. It can be viewed in VR on the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.

The Dead Room - A ghost story for Christmas

Mark Gatiss brings the Christmas ghost story tradition back to life with The Dead Room, a chilling new tale for BBC Four.

Written and directed by Gatiss, the 30 minute film tells the tale of a long-running radio horror series of the same name. Simon Callow (Victoria & Abdul, Shakespeare in Love, Four Weddings and a Funeral) plays Aubrey Judd, the radio series’ veteran presenter and national treasure, who finds that he must adapt to changing times and tastes… But whatever happened to the classic ghost stories? The good old days?

Aubrey soon discovers that all is not quiet in the eerie radio studio - and that elements of his own past are not as dead and buried as he perhaps hoped…

Mark Gatiss says: "The Christmas Ghost Story is a wonderful and vital TV tradition and one which has found its natural place on BBC Four. A Merry Christmas to all of you at home. Pleasant dreams!”

Simon is joined by Anjli Mohindra (Bodyguard, The Boy with the Topknot, The Sarah Jane Adventures), Susan Penhaligon (Count Dracula, Doctor Who) and Joshua Oakes-Rogers (Little Crackers).

The Dead Room is a 1x30’ drama written and directed by Mark Gatiss. The Executive Producer is Ben Irving for BBC Four and Mark Gatiss for Can Do Productions. Isibeal Ballance is the Producer.

The Dead Room will air at 10pm on BBC Four on Christmas Eve.

First look: Catch 22

Coming to Channel 4 in 2019

Based on Joseph Heller’s seminal novel of the same name, Catch-22 is the story of the incomparable, artful dodger, Yossarian (Christopher Abbott), a US Air Force bombardier in World War II who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy, but rather his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to avoid his military assignments, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule which specifies that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers which are real and immediate is the process of a rational mind; a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but a request to be removed from duty is evidence of sanity and therefore makes him ineligible to be relieved from duty.

The cast includes Christopher Abbott (Yossarian), Kyle Chandler (Colonel Cathcart), George Clooney (Scheisskopf), Hugh Laurie (Major de Coverley), Giancarlo Giannini (Marcello), Daniel David Stewart (Milo), Rafi Gavron (Aarfy), Austin Stowell (Nately), Graham Patrick Martin (Orr), Gerran Howell (Kid Sampson), Jon Rudnitsky (McWatt), Kevin J. O'Connor (Korn), Pico Alexander (Clevinger), Tessa Ferrer (Nurse Duckett), Lewis Pullman (Major Major), Josh Bolt (Dunbar), Jay Paulson (Chaplain) and Julie Ann Emery (Marion).

Catch-22 is executive produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov on behalf of Smokehouse Pictures, along with Richard Brown and Steve Golin on behalf of Anonymous Content. Luke Davies and David Michôd are co-writers and executive producers for the series.

The 6-part limited series from Paramount Television and Anonymous Content is directed by Clooney, Heslov and Ellen Kuras, who also serves as producer. Each directed two episodes. Catch-22 will air on Channel 4 in 2019.

Chris Evans Breakfast Show announces groundbreaking partnership with Sky

The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio will launch on 21 January 2019 and instantly redefine commercial radio at breakfast with a show completely free of ad breaks, in partnership with Sky.

In a ground-breaking partnership between Virgin Radio UK and Sky, Chris Evans will broadcast his Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio without any traditional ad breaks. Sky’s sponsorship will provide investment to create branded content, competitions and events which will take the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio to a whole new level.

Chris Evans said: “So much has changed in broadcasting since I was last at Virgin Radio that now, thanks to Sky, we can do the show without ad breaks. I’m even more excited about starting in the New Year!”

Stephen van Rooyen, CEO UK & Ireland, Sky, said: “The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio will bring audiences something completely new, bold and fresh – everything we love at Sky. We’re excited to create an innovative radio first with Chris and Virgin Radio, and bring Sky customers even more of the entertainment they love when Virgin Radio launches across Sky from 7 January.”

The partnership between Virgin Radio UK and Sky means listeners will have the same uninterrupted audio experience they’ve come to expect from Chris Evans’s award-winning BBC Radio 2 show. Boosted by Sky’s investment in creativity, Chris and the team, including Vassos and Rachel, will have more license than ever before to let their creative juices flow.

The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio will be available online, on mobile via the Virgin Radio app and on DAB digital radio. Virgin Radio will launch on Sky+ and Sky Q on 7 January 2019.

Sky Sports launches a new home for American sports – Sky Sports USA

Love the NFL? Need to know what’s going on in the NBA? You’re in the right place. This January, Sky Sports is launching a new home for American sports - Sky Sports USA.

The channel, on air from 3 January to 5 February, will be home to some of the biggest superstars in sport. In a huge month for sport stateside, Sky Sports USA will show 40 live games from across the NFL and NBA.

As the race continues to Super Bowl LIII, Sky Sports USA will have every game from the NFL play-offs live, as well as the spectacular finale itself from Atlanta.

Out on the hardwood, UK fans await the NBA’s annual London game, as the Washington Wizards face the New York Knicks at The O2 arena. Then, on the 21st January, the league marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day with four games, headlined by the Memphis Grizzlies’ traditional celebration of the civil rights icon’s life.

Highlights from Sky Sports USA include:

40 live games from across both sports

Every game from the NFL play-offs, including Super Bowl LIII from Atlanta

The NBA London Game 2019 on 17 January between the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks

All four games from the NBA’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A huge range of programming across both sports, including episodes of NBA Classic Games, NBA Champions, A Football Life, SFX and America’s Game

Barney Francis, Sky Sports Managing Director, said “Every year, the NFL and NBA London games sell out in a matter of minutes and every year the following for both sports in the UK gets bigger. It’s a big month for both, with the road to the Super Bowl in NFL and the London and Martin Luther King games in the NBA – it’s a perfect time to launch a channel to make sure our customers get the very best of American sports.”

In addition to the live action, fans can watch a huge amount of support programming. From the NBA, there will be more classic games and more must-see documentaries, including Thierry Henry & Larry Bird - The Conversation and Players Only: Isiah & Magic. There’s also a host of content from NFL Films, including A Football Life, SFX and America’s Game, alongside exclusive interviews and masterclasses from Sky Sports’ NFL team.

Sky Sports USA, normally Sky Sports Action, joins Sky Sports’ line-up of 10 dedicated sports channels offering 126 live Premier League games, EFL, England cricket, the Solheim Cup and Golf’s Majors, every race of the 2019 F1 World Championship, World Championship Boxing, Netball’s Super League and much more.

Karl Pilkington’s Sick of It recommissioned for a second series

The Sky original production Sick of It is set to return to our screens as a second series of the scripted comedy gets greenlit. The scripted series, written by Karl Pilkington and Richard Yee, his long-time producer and director, will air late 2019 on Sky One and NOW TV.

The launch of Sick of It was part of a record-breaking year of comedy on Sky One. Karl and his grumpy alter ego return with more helpings of humorous philosophising in a second instalment of the critically acclaimed comedy drama. After Aunt Norma replaces Karl with a young sparky care worker, it triggers a bout of soul searching about how little he’s achieved in his life. As Karl attempts to get a new job, earn enough money to move out of Norma’s house, and start dating again, he has to contend with the new carer who not only looks after Norma but begins to take over his life too.

Karl Pilkington said: “I should be chuffed that people liked it enough that Sky want a second series, but just like in Sick of It, my inner voice is reminding me of the sleepless nights and stress I went through when doing the first series. I can never enjoy anything.”

Richard Yee said: “There’s no one able to express the anxiety and confusion of the modern world with as much wit and humanity as Karl, so it’s a joy to be bringing him and his miserable alter ego back for a second series of Sick of It.”

Jon Mountague, Sky’s head of comedy said: “The ‘real’ Special One is coming back to Sky One and so is his inner self. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

From the Emmy Award winning team behind An Idiot Abroad and The Moaning of Life, the second series of Sick of It will be produced by Me+You Productions and Alrite Productions. Richard Yee directs.  Co-creators Karl Pilkington and Richard Yee also executive produce along with Krishnendu Majumdar. The second series was commissioned by Jon Mountague from Sky.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

David Schwimmer stars in Nick Mohammed’s new comedy series for Sky One

Intelligence is a new Sky original production set in the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, a weedier, geekier, more bureaucratic version of MI5 and MI6.

The six-part series is a workplace comedy series based in Cheltenham and set in the UK’s highly regarded Government Communications Headquarters. When a power-hungry, maverick NSA agent (Schwimmer) comes over to join an inept and tactless computer analyst (Mohammed) and a newly-formed team tackling cybercrime, everything they know is shaken up.

Jon Mountague, Head of Comedy, Sky Entertainment, said: “Nick Mohammed has written a brilliantly funny comedy series in Intelligence. David & Nick are hilarious together and so perfectly represent the special relationship between our two great nations. I can’t wait.”

David Schwimmer said: “I have no idea what this show is about but if it’s called Intelligence, naturally I’m going to be part of it.”

Nick Mohammed said: “Getting to work with David has been an absolute dream come true. He’s collaborative, honest and exquisitely funny and I couldn’t be more delighted and flattered by his involvement. On saying that, we did initially offer the part to the local shoplifter from Blackpool, but he wasn’t available sadly. Either way, we hope that everyone at GCHQ is as excited about this series as we are. I presume they were aware of this series being green-lit way before we ever were…”

Nerys Evans, Expectation’s Creative Director, Comedy, said: “Even though the stakes are really high for the team, fighting cyber-crime, our six-part comedy series reveals the reality is not dissimilar to any other office environment, from temperamental photocopiers to meeting rooms being double booked. David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed have a fantastic ‘odd couple’ chemistry and the scripts are brilliantly funny, we can’t wait to see the world of Intelligence come to life.”

Mohammed (The Martian and Christopher Robin) will write, star and executive produce the six-part series. Schwimmer (Friends and American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson) will also star and executive produce.

Intelligence is a co-production with Expectation and Dark Harbor Stories. Executive producer is Nerys Evans for Expectation. Commissioned by Jon Mountague, Sky’s Head of Comedy and Zai Bennett, Director of Programming for Sky Entertainment UK & Ireland. The commissioning editor is Morwenna Gordon for Sky.

Intelligence will be internationally distributed by Sky Vision.

Almost Never A group of young hopefuls try to make it in the music business in CBBC’s new comedy drama

A story of family, friendship, loyalty and embracing your dreams in a brand new CBBC comedy drama.
It’s the final of the nation's top TV talent show The Spotlight, and boy band The Wonderland are pitted against all-girl band Girls Here First.

It’s a tense moment as host Tess Daly is about to announce the winners, a prize that both bands so desperately crave. When the boys don’t win, what happens next? They came so close to achieving their dreams and now they’re left adrift with no backing and no plan.

CBBC’s brand new comedy drama Almost Never charts the ups and downs of The Wonderland as they juggle home life, school and relationships, alongside their dreams of pop stardom. It’s a story of family and friendship, loyalty and dreaming big. The Wonderland strive to embrace their dreams whilst dealing with everything that teenage life throws at them.

Almost Never is coming soon on CBBC.

Pictured: Mya (Mya-Lecia Naylor), Lill (Lilly Stanion), Lola (Lola Moxom), Miri (Miriam Nyarko), Sasha (Kimberly Wyatt), Oakley (Oakley Orchard), Nate (Nathaniel Dass), Harry (Harry Still)

Stacey Dooley and Joe Sugg take One Step Beyond the ballroom as they join Madness at this year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations on BBC One

2018 Strictly Come Dancing winner Stacey Dooley and fellow finalist Joe Sugg are set to present the New Year’s Eve concert broadcasting live from London on BBC One featuring British Pop sensations Madness.
This unmissable New Year’s treat will broadcast live from Central Hall Westminster and Madness will kick things off with a selection of hits plus a unique collaboration with the Kingdom Choir. Then it will be time for the big countdown to the clock striking midnight and fireworks will fill the night sky lighting up London over the River Thames. The action then heads back inside as Madness carry on the party with more music promising an unforgettable night of fireworks and fun on BBC One.

Broadcaster and presenter, Stacey Dooley says: “2018 has been such a fantastic year for me, working on some hard hitting documentaries as well as Strictly, has been a real treat. Presenting with Joe Sugg at the New Year’s Eve concert with Madness is the perfect ending to such a great year!”

Social Media sensation Joe Sugg says: “I’m so excited to be presenting with my fellow Strictly pal Stacey Dooley at the incredible New Year’s Eve concert in London with the legendary band Madness… what a great finale to a terrific year. Bring on 2019!”

The New Year’s Eve concert will broadcast live on BBC One at 11.35 - 11.59pm, and then will switch back to the concert after the fireworks display at 12.14 - 1am.

A limited number of tickets for the event are on sale now, visit bbc.co.uk/newyearseve for further details.

The concert is commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of Content, Kate Phillips, Controller Entertainment Commissioning for the BBC and Jan Younghusband, Head of BBC Music TV Commissioning. It will be executive produced by Suzy Lamb, Managing Director Entertainment and Music, BBC Studios and Cerrie Frost will be series producer for BBC Studios.

The fireworks broadcast is commissioned by Alison Kirkham, Controller, Factual Commissioning for the BBC. The Creative Director is Claire Popplewell. The Executive producer is Alison Howe and the producer is Victoria Simpson for BBC Studios.

Interview with Simon Bird for The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited

It’s ten years since The Inbetweeners first appeared on TV. How has it changed your life?

In lots of ways. I always wanted to perform comedy and be an actor. Before The Inbetweeners I assumed that was a pipe dream. As we were making The Inbetweeners I thought it was a pipe dream as well to be honest! We all thought it was such a tiny show and no one would watch it.

What had you done before The Inbetweeners?

I’d done a lot of live comedy. I met Joe at university and with him and some of my other friends we did lots of sketch shows and stand up. We did that at the Edinburgh Festival and in London. We had sort of odd jobs, me and Joe, writing sketches and jokes, including for Iain Morris and Damon Beesley (who wrote The Inbetweeners). That’s how we got to know them and eventually how we got the part. So just pure nepotism! Old-school nepotism.

What do you remember of the audition process?

Well I remember not being allowed to audition for about a year because Iain and Damon said I was a) too old and b) too camp. They said there wasn’t a part in the show for me or Joe. This was around the time when Skins had just come out and that was obviously a huge success. They’d cast fifteen and sixteen year olds to play fifteen and sixteen year olds which makes sense. So Iain and Damon were trying to do that. And Blake and James are slightly younger than me and Joe, so they sort of achieved that with them. But with Will and Simon, those are the characters that are based on them – Will is Iain and Simon is Damon. I think they were just very protective and didn’t really like the idea of giving those parts up to anyone. But Joe and I hung on in there and eventually Iain and Damon ran out of time, as we knew they would. They realised about three days before filming that they had to cast someone. I think it was out of desperation really that me and Joe got cast.

I can’t imagine anyone else playing them, though

Yeah it’s weird isn’t it?

What sort of teenager were you?

I mean I was essentially Will, obviously, sad to say. I didn’t have a briefcase but I had a pretty structured backpack.

When did you first realise the show was going to be a hit?

Really late, to be honest. Genuinely after series three came out. The viewing figures for series one were tiny and it got terribly reviewed so we assumed it was dead in the water. Then for some reason they commissioned a second series and we thought that was just foolhardy commissioners. The viewing figures for the second series were slightly better but not in any way noteworthy. It was really only after the third series when the viewing figures really took off and people were saying, “OK this is getting weird now.”

Do you think the first film took it to a whole new level?

Yeah I think so. I admired the pure cojones of Iain and Damon to think we deserved to make a film. Lots of TV shows have done that since but at that time it wasn’t a standard thing to do. Back then the idea of turning this pretty lo-fi low-budget sitcom about four underachieving losers into a film felt totally audacious. It felt like we were just taking the piss, to be honest.

What do you get shouted at most by fans of the show?

Oh, all the ones you’d expect. ‘Briefcase Wanker’ is obviously a classic. ‘Bumder’ is a bit of a go-to. All the old favourites.

On the night you’ll be reunited with the others – do you manage to get together a lot?

We do. Not as much as we’d all like to but we met up a couple of months ago and went out for dinner. I see Joe quite a lot. But Blake and James don’t live in London anymore so it’s a bit trickier to see them.

Tell us about your upcoming projects

For the last six months I’ve been working on a film which I have directed called ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’. Coming to cinemas soon hopefully.

The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited airs New Years Day at 9pm on Channel 4

Interview with James Buckley for The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited

It’s ten years since The Inbetweeners first appeared on TV. How did it change your life?

I don’t know really. I got paid, and I was in this successful show, but I’m not really sure how much it’s changed my life other than that. I feel like I’m the same person. It was good fun doing it!

What had you done before The Inbetweeners?

I was in a TV show called ‘Orrible with Johnny Vaughan, I did the last series of Teachers, I did two or three different characters on The Bill. Just stuff like that. The Inbetweeners was the first thing that really took off.

What do you remember of the audition process?

I remember it was quite long. It felt like pretty much everyone I knew who was my age and was also an actor read for it. I know that they were doing auditions in Edinburgh as well, up at the Fringe. It was just a really long process; I didn’t know what was going on or what they were really looking for.

How was it meeting your fellow cast mates for the first time? What were your first impressions of them?

It was really weird meeting the other boys for the first time. That was pretty much the last audition, where they had the four of us together, and we read, and it was just quite weird. The way we are now was exactly how we were the first time we met. We we were just all very comfortable taking the piss out of each other straight away.

Was the show actually fun to film, or was it just a job with antisocial hours and lots of lines to learn?

It was the best fun. It was the best job you could ever have. It was just hanging out with your mates, mucking about, having fun, making each other laugh, and maybe we might film some stuff that could be put on television. It doesn’t really get any better than that. To be paid to do that! I still, to this day, can’t believe how lucky I was.

What sort of a teenager were you?

I was still a teenager when we filmed this – I think I was 18 when we shot the pilot and 19 when we did the first full series. I think I was a pretty ordinary teenager, boring, just played video games with my mates and went to the pub, stuff like that. Just very normal.

Did you like Jay?

I liked playing Jay. I don’t think I could be around someone like that for too long, for any extended period of time. I think I’d get wound up. It’s good fun to play a character like that, to do stuff, to behave in a way that you’d probably feel too embarrassed or ashamed to in real life. It’s like a purge. It was really great to be able to get away with the things I said and did. And Jay’s a really funny character; he makes a lot of people laugh, so I loved playing him.

Did you have any input into how the character developed?

No. And this is another reason why the job was so good! I didn’t have to think about anything. Iain and Damon [the creators] had it all there. It just needed someone to read it, and I happened to be the lucky person to do that. It meant I could spend most of my energy just winding up Joe Thomas. It was all Iain and Damon.

When did you first realise the show was going to be a hit?

I can’t really remember. It was a really slow process. It took a while to catch on, and there wasn’t a time where I suddenly realised that the show was popular and people liked it. It just slowly happened, and more and more people were watching it on TV and stuff. I can’t remember a time where we all sat down together and popped a bottle of champagne and patted each other on the back to say “It’s a hit.” That never really happened, it was just a real slow-burner before people started to get into it.

Did the first film take it to a whole new level?

It’s in hindsight, really, that I appreciate what we did. No-one made TV shows into movies at that point, because that had a famous history of going badly – no-one had done it for 30 years or whatever. That was very much a possibility with doing the movie for The Inbetweeners. We didn’t know if it was going to work or if people were going to like it. I think we all felt like if we just kept doing what people liked us doing, then maybe other people would get it, but there was still this stigma around TV shows adapted for movies, and we had to overcome that. And we did. I haven’t really ever thought about it until now, but it was pretty good to have a couple of hit movies off the back of the show.

On the night, you’ll be reunited with the boys – do you ever manage to all get together?

We do sometimes, but we mostly communicate through text or email. We’ve got a weird relationship, it’s genuinely like family. You can have your brother move away and you don’t see them for a year, but you have that bond and you pick up straight where you left off. We are like family, and any excuse to get together we’ll take. That’s why we’re doing this show – it’s just an excuse to meet up. It’s difficult with kids and work and stuff like that, and we don’t live near each other, so it’s not like we can just pop round and see each other. So this is a nice excuse to spend a few days together.

Have you any idea what we can expect on the night?

I’m just going to turn up, and I get to see Joe and Simon and Blake, and Ian and Damon, and my attitude will be the same as it was with the series and the movies – if we make a TV show at the end of it then great, but I just really want to see those guys.

Do you have any favourite scenes from the show?

I haven’t really watched it. I would rather watch Blackadder thousands of times. I’m sure there are people who probably watch The Inbetweeners that much. It’s probably, like, if I ask Rowan Atkinson what his favourite Blackadder episode was, and he’s like “I can’t really remember, because it was a while ago and I never really watched them back…”

“… and I spend all my time watching The Inbetweeners.”

[Laughs] That would be the greatest!

The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited airs New Years Day at 9pm on Channel 4

Monday, 17 December 2018

The ABC Murders - Interview with John Malkovich (Hercule Poirot)

Hercule Poirot is an iconic character. What was it that drew you to the role and why did you want to play him?

In this case it was the three scripts that Sarah Phelps wrote. I thought that they were very well written, the character was interesting, Hercule Poirot was perhaps not very happy and in a phase of his life that we don’t see very often and isn’t dramatized very often and that is what interested me.

Sarah Phelps always brings something new to Christie’s work. When you were reading the script what were the things that really popped out and appealed to you?

Where Hercule Poirot is in his life; he is nearing the end of his life, he is quite forgotten. As it happens he has lived in England for almost two decades and the world has passed him by. As well as the plot and a lot of very good characters, that was the part that interested me the most.

Can you tell us a little bit about Hercule Poirot? Where do we meet him in the story and how does his story progress?

Hercule is receiving letters and he puts together that these letters are being sent to him by a murderer who is called A.B.C. This murderer is going through the alphabet and murdering people whose names have double initials. That’s where he is at the very beginning. He’s starting to sell some of his possessions to get by (he says he has savings but he doesn’t) and he’s, like I think many people do, in the process of fading away. Then he tries to involve the police. His friend Inspector Japp is no longer there, Hercule didn’t even know he’d retired, and he finds it very hard to acquaint himself with the new inspector that he has to deal with. That’s where the story starts.

That new inspector is Inspector Crome, played by Rupert Grint. Can you tell us a bit about the relationship between Hercule and Crome?

I don’t think their relationship starts in a very promising way but they eventually gain a measure of respect for each other through the course of this story. Poirot is someone who is very experienced and Crome, Rupert’s character, is decidedly less, they have an interesting relationship.

What was it that you felt about Hercule Poirot that you wanted to bring out in your performance? Was there anything in particular that you wanted to develop in the character that we know so well?

I am certainly no expert on Agatha Christie, and in my experience, a lot of times when you know a piece really well, a piece of literature that it’s based on, it just brings trouble. So, I think that first of all it’s really Sarah Phelps’ choice to decide what to emphasise or not emphasise. One of the things that I thought was important was that Poirot was someone who had lived here in England for nearly 20 years when our story starts. I thought that was important on a number of levels. He says at one point that he’s lived here for 19 years and people still think he’s French. The first thing is that he isn’t French but he has had a long experience in England, in a way about a third of his life, and I think that is an important factor and has to be played and made clear and understood which I think is a difference from how this story normally is told.

The 1930’s is a very interesting period. Have you done much set in that period?

The 1930’s is not a period I have done a lot of work in but I’ve certainly read a lot about it. I’m probably more familiar with the later 30’s, the Second World War and after, and the First World War in Europe proper and also in the UK, but not so much in the early 30’s. I would be reticent to speak about it but certainly everybody, myself included, has felt exile; has felt an outsider; has felt unwelcome in various places and situations. I think Sarah draws interesting parallels with today. I don’t think it’s easy to be an immigrant. I don’t think it’s easy to leave what you know and strike out for a new existence. In Poirot’s case he has established something and been invited everywhere important and chic and to various stately homes to do his murder mystery evenings and then the invitations stop, as they invariably do in life and I think Sarah explores this delicately.

It’s a painful portrait of a man...

I hope it’s painful. I remember once I was doing a play here (in the UK) in the early 1990’s, it was fairly late but my little girl was not sleepy at all and something came on the TV. It was a film about two elderly people who were retiring, I think Stephen Frears directed it, and I thought it was just a wonderful thing. I thought it was terrific. My little girl, who was tiny, stayed up and watched it. It did a great job of just watching people fade away. But that’s life, we all see it with our grandparents and then our parents and then it’s our turn and that’s just normal. But, it doesn’t make it any less painful and you don’t see it very much (on screen). I don’t know… It often seems we produce a million films that are all about teenagers.

What did you want to achieve with the very famous look?

I didn’t really have an opinion about it. I was doing some work in Chicago back in April when I had the first conversation with Alex (Gabassi). From what I understood from Sarah’s script I thought that I would need to get a wig and I don’t think that my moustache would necessarily grow that way but anyway, we started to conceptualise and gather the elements to fulfil that vision which seemed to me to describe someone with very, very dyed hair and a very, very dyed moustache. I thought it was part of the pathos. I could see that it could be one that wasn’t irreplaceable but I understood it as a short hand. Alex said actually no, I want you to look like you look now, I saw a picture of you yesterday and I want you to look like that. To me that’s a decision for a director. The director is the lead interpreter of something that includes what is the text, what is the story, how do you tell it, what does it look like and probably principle among those is what are people actually seeing. My feeling was that a million people play Hamlet and they don’t all look alike; a million people play Richard III and they don’t all look alike. Obviously, you want to do something that doesn’t disrupt the notion of what period it is. I think every time it has been done the moustache has had a lead role and I guess that’s great, but you know it doesn’t in this interpretation really and I think that’s fine.

You have mentioned conversations with Alex Gabassi a number of times. What is his style? How have you found working with him?

I think Alex is very smart and he’s got a very good sense of humour. I love to watch him move things around on the set because after a day or two I thought my goodness you are even crazier than I am. I am only 88% as crazy as him. Everything he’ll organise and reframe, which by the way I like; I mean the form is founded upon manipulating images. I think he is very smart, very good with the actors. I feel plenty of freedom but at the same time I like to hear ‘I want one this way’ or ‘try it like this’ etc. That’s the whole point. I like to have direction from a director. I always welcome that very much and I always try to give options that he may like and that maybe wouldn’t have come to mind. So, for me it’s a very happy collaboration.

Through this process are there any particular words that resonate or have resonated through this? Is there a word that you have repeatedly felt, or something in the script, that sums up the feeling that’s going on around this time?

Not really, not in a word. I think he has a, and I don’t even know what we call it, it’s not really the right word, but I think we say detachment, a kind of recul sort of… he’s reflective. That’s the time of his life I think, and he’s always reflective about people and what they can get up to. Sarah’s screenplay has interesting notions about Poirot’s past, which I think are very important. But I don’t know, maybe I would say reserve.

What drives Hercule Poirot? When he sees these victims they’re not just dead bodies to him, it’s almost a very personal thing - beyond the fact the killer is writing to him. What is driving him through this story?

It’s the same thing that drive us all, his past. Scott Spencer had a great line in his novel Endless Love, “the past rests breathing faintly in the darkness, it no longer holds me as it used to, now I must reach back to touch it”. I think in Poirot’s case that is what motivates him. I think Sarah has had the most interesting take on what that past was and why it dictates his present and future.

There are some pretty brutal murders and a race against time. Is Poirot scared or is he convinced that he’s going to solve this case?

I think there is being convinced you are going to solve the case and then being convinced that you have to solve the case. I’d maybe say that he is convinced that he has to solve the case, with the associates who help him: Crome, played by Rupert Grint, being one of them. I think he’s worried. I don’t think he’s personally afraid but he’s afraid that he won’t have done enough, won’t have been on the mark enough or clever enough to discover who is committing these heinous acts, I think he has fear in that way.

Is this his last chance saloon?

Well, one never knows that in this life, but it certainly could be.

In terms of the filming, have there been any particular highlights so far? Have you enjoyed filming on location in the UK; has there been a good vibe on set?

Newby Hall is a lovely place and it was insane to be on the old trains, boy they put out a lot of dirt, good lord. But it’s gone very well. I think it’s a good cast, some of whom their work I knew, or at least a tiny bit, and many whose work I didn’t know, but I think he’s gathered together a very good group and I’ve very much enjoyed it.

You share a lot of scenes with Rupert Grint. How has it been working with Rupert?

It’s been very good. He has a lot of charm. He has a way of being sort of funny and off-centre without trying very hard. He brings an inner turmoil to the funny things he does that I always think is absolutely necessary to actually be funny. The rest is maybe witty but not really funny.

Agatha Christie is an author who sells around the world - but is she a writer that you were aware of?

Of course, Agatha Christie has a reputation everywhere. I am sure I read two or three Agatha Christie books when I was a kid but it would have been when I was pretty young. I don’t know how those shows did in America (And Then There Were None, The Witness for the Prosecution) but I thought they were just excellent; they had terrific cast; they looked lovely, very well written and very, very good.

Poirot - The ABC Murders Begins on BBC One on Boxing Day at 9pm

Poirot is back on our television screens, in a new adaptation of one of his most exhilarating cases. Widely regarded as one of Agatha Christie’s best mysteries, The ABC Murders is one of the most surprising and unusual appearances by literature’s most famous detective.

The year is 1933 and a killer stalks Britain, known only as A.B.C. They strike in a methodical pattern and leave a copy of the ABC railway guide at the scene of each of murder. As Poirot (John Malkovich) attempts to investigate he is thwarted on every front; by a police force that no longer trusts him, a public that no longer adores him, and an enemy determined to outsmart him. If Poirot is to match his most cunning nemesis everything about him will be called into question; his authority, his integrity, his past, his identity.

In her fourth Agatha Christie adaptation in conjunction with Agatha Christie Limited and Mammoth Screen, Bafta-nominated writer Sarah Phelps continues to explore the 20th century through the work of Britain’s greatest crime writer. This time it is the 1930s; a divided country where suspicion and hatred are on the rise, and the gap between wealth and poverty is great and growing greater.

In the midst of this we find Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells. Poirot has aged and the world has changed quickly around him. England, tolerant, welcoming England, squeezed by Depression, by the dark news from Germany, isn’t as tolerant and welcoming. The jubilation of winning the Great War has evaporated, now all there is, is a mess. Someone has to take the blame and sympathy for Displaced People has run out. As the British Union of Fascists gains ground, inveighing against ‘aliens’, Poirot feels even more like the outsider that he is. Even worse, he has been swept aside by the new brooms in the police and forgotten by the Bright Young Things whose dinner parties he entertained. But somebody has not forgotten him.

The A.B.C. killer travels the length and breadth of Britain to taunt Poirot. The ominous rumble of the train tracks connects every sinew of the country, every corner of opulence and poverty bound together. As Poirot tracks the killer across a riven, tense England, the case peels back the layers of the persona he’s created to survive in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers where the only person who seems to truly understand him, is the deranged, uncontrolled killer.

Tom Kerridge’s Fresh Start Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge is back

Chef and family man Tom Kerridge shows eight families how making lifestyle changes and cooking great food at home can help them become fitter, healthier and happier.
A fresh start for the New Year - for all of the family.

Following the success of BBC Two’s Lose Weight For Good, Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge is back with delicious new recipes to encourage eight families to eat more healthily. Tom guides his willing volunteers through a Six Step Plan across six episodes, to help press the restart button on their relationship with food.

With busy lifestyles, some of Tom’s families don’t cook at all, choosing convenience food and takeaways over fresh produce. In each episode Tom sets the families a series of challenges designed to make them think about food in a new way. He helps plan weekly meals and shares his shopping list tricks, as well as demonstrating his simple recipes first hand at home.

Over 12 weeks, Tom’s eight families have their health, fitness and happiness monitored by the chef. Tom measures the changes taking effect, with pleasing results for everyone wanting to achieve a fresh start.

Tom Kerridge's Fresh Start begins on Wednesday 2 January at 8pm on BBC Two.

First look pictures for 'Traitors'

Traitors (previously known as Jerusalem) will air on Channel 4 and globally on Netflix outside of the U.K. and Ireland (and China where Netflix is not available) in early 2019.

Created by multiple award-winning playwright and screenwriter Bash Doran (Boardwalk Empire, Looming Tower, Masters of Sex), Traitors is her first original commission for British TV, with award-winning directors Dearbhla Walsh and Alex Winckler at the helm bringing the six-part series to life.

The cast includes Emma Appleton (Clique) as Feef Symonds, Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, The Missing, Line of Duty) as Priscilla, Michael Stuhlbarg (Shape Of Water, The Looming Tower, The Post, Boardwalk Empire) as Rowe, Luke Treadaway (Ordeal by Innocence, Fortitude, Unbroken) as Hugh, Brandon P Bell (Dear White People) as Jackson, Stephen Campbell Moore (The Last Post, The Child in Time) as Philip and Matt Lauria (Kingdom, Parenthood) as Peter.

Traitors is a compulsive spy thriller that takes us behind the scenes of a seismic moment in global history, through the eyes of one young woman caught in the middle of it. An intimate epic set in 1945 London, Traitors is the dangerous, enthralling story of Feef, who is seduced by a rogue American spy into spying on her own country. Her task? To uncover a Russian agent in the heart of the British Government.

Traitors is produced by Twenty Twenty Productions (part of Warner Bros International Television Production based in the UK) and 42 for Channel 4 and Netflix. Executive producers are Eleanor Moran, Rory Aitken, Emma Willis, Tim Carter and Bash Doran with Rhonda Smith as producer. Sales are handled by all3media international.

The 6X60’ series was commissioned for Channel 4 by former Head of Drama, Beth Willis and Head of International Drama, Simon Maxwell.

Ashley Banjo Interview for Flirty Dancing

What is Flirty Dancing about?

It's like a blind date, but rather than meet up with somebody and then do something more conventional like go to a bar or to a restaurant, you don't speak to this person. You don't know who they are. You don't even quite know where you'll meet them, but you'll bump into somebody. You'll hear the music start to play that you've been rehearsing to for a week, but the person that you're dancing with, it's the first time you've ever seen them, and you have a few minutes to dance with that person, to do a choreographed routine. Then, once it's finished you decide if you like them, what they made you feel like, and if you want to actually see them to go out on a second date. You don't even get to speak to that person, it's all based on how that dance with them made you feel.

Why did you want to get involved in a dating show?

It's a dancing show as well as a dating show which was important to me because as you know, first and foremost, I love dancing. Everything I do normally revolves around it in some way. I’m always open to using dance in different ways. I just find it really attractive, and when we started talking about this show I was just so intrigued.

Do you think with that there's a better chance of a match than we've seen in previous dating shows?

In the real world you talk to somebody and they might get tongue-tied. They might say the wrong thing; nerves might make them a slightly different person. You make a judgment, but that judgment can be flawed because the person doesn't really give you the best version of themselves in that moment. Whereas with this, I don't really think there's any hiding. We almost give people a bit of a helping hand in a way.

Do you feel pressure because it’s your routine that’s make or break for the success of their first meeting?

Yes! I know that they've put their trust in me. Like I said, we don't take this lightly. We do our best to make it right and as representative of the person in question as we can. On the day, let me tell you, I've never felt more nervous! I feel more pressure watching them dance for the first time than I do over any Diversity performance!

What sort of places will viewers see these couples meet and dance together?

That's been a really big adventure. Over the whole summer we went to some really great places, and had some really lovely times. For example we went to an empty St Pancras station in the middle of the night; we've been on the edges of piers, dancing at sunsets and sunrises. We’ve been at viewpoints looking over the whole of London, we’ve been to amazing art galleries and then some lovely romantic locations like bandstands in a park. We really like to set the tone and create these really lovely environments for them to meet and hopefully feel a spark.

You make it sound like a scene from a romantic Hollywood movie!

That's where we started from for every single one of these. In my mind, it's like a short film. Like a little rom-com in its own right. All of them are placed in what could be scenes from rom-coms. Let’s hope sparks fly!

You’ve got Jordan and Perri helping you out. It’s almost like a Diversity team effort!

I love it, I love having the boys with me because Diversity is like my baby! But it’s not just the boys; I’ve got some amazing girls with me too. Diversity is big enough that we've got girls who dance with us all the time, so the company grows and is bound to get bigger. In this show you see different characters, different people and you see our girls helping, you see Jordan helping, Perri helping them. So it's almost like you get to see some of the more extended Diversity family too, which is really nice.

It brings a family feel to the show…

Thanks, that’s exactly what we wanted it to feel like. Do you know what makes a difference as well? When everyone who does it really cares. I could have gone and got people to come and help me and the show would be great, but I think that - the team, all the choreographers, obviously me - everyone really cared about the outcome, so we try and do our best to make people work and look after them, and I think if you start it off on that foot, then instantly I think people have a different experience.

Speaking of family, congratulations on the imminent arrival of your baby girl, have you been given any tips or advice from your family?

Well my family and friends are going baby crazy at the moment, they are being born left right and centre! So I think there will be plenty of advice around. I’m so excited to see our little one grow up and if by any chance she wanted to be like her daddy and bust a few moves, I’ve already got the dancing shoes covered!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Billy Monger to receive Helen Rollason Award at BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018

British racing driver Billy Monger will receive the Helen Rollason award at this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Affectionately known as 'Billy the Whizz', Billy is a highly skilled young British driver with race winning success in Ginetta Junior and British F4.

His life changed forever in April 2017 during a British F4 race at Donington Park. A terrible crash, while travelling at 120mph, left him with life-altering injuries and resulted in amputations to both of his legs at the age of just 17.

Spurred on by the support of the motorsport industry and the general public, Billy showed sheer grit and determination by returning to the racing world in March of this year at the British F3 Championship - less than a year after his devastating accident.

Making his debut in the event, he took fifth in the first qualifying session of the season and went on to seal a brilliant third-place podium finish. He ended the season in sixth position overall in the standings.

Director, BBC Sport, Barbara Slater says: “Billy truly embodies what this award is all about – overcoming adversity and triumphing during times of immense struggle. I am looking forward to watching this remarkable young man collect his award on the night and watching his undoubtedly bright future unfold”.

The Helen Rollason award recognises outstanding achievement in the face of adversity and was introduced to the show in 1999 in memory of BBC Sport journalist and presenter Helen Rollason MBE who lost her battle with cancer during that year, aged 43.

Previous winners of the award include Hillsborough disaster campaigner Anne Williams, charity marathon runner Ben Smith and last year’s winner Bradley Lowery, whose parents accepted the award posthumously.

Watership Down - Interviews

An interview with James McAvoy (Hazel)

What made you want to be a part of Watership Down?
From the deep love and terror that watching the 1978 animation put inside my bones, and then from reading the novel later in life when it blew me away all over again. I was excited by the opportunity to try to bring Watership Down to a new generation, on such a huge scale as has never been done before. I think it’s a story you can relive in any decade. 

Tell us about your character.
Hazel is quite ordinary when we first meet him. He’s quite middle of the road, but he has this exceptional brother, Fiver, who is incredible and highly sensitive, to the extent he has visions of the future. When Fiver says he has a really bad feeling about something and that they’re not safe to stay at their warren anymore, Hazel trusts his brother implicitly. They then set off on this adventure to find a new home, which Hazel is at the forefront of.

Is there a moment you’re really looking forward to seeing on screen?
I’m really looking forward to seeing Cowslip’s warren in episode one, with all the melancholy, poetic, fatalistic rabbits. I just love that idea, and am excited about Hazel getting into that macabre warren. 

Did you do anything to prepare for the role? How do you even prepare to become a rabbit?
No not really. I suppose, at least emotionally and verbally, the rabbits are pretty anthropomorphised. Although I did think of a couple of things, which I guess informed my performance in some way. For example, the rate at which a rabbit’s heart beats is incredibly fast - to the extent that they can have heart attacks just from being overexcited or panicked. They have this thing where they can freeze if they are overstimulated, such as when they’re in the headlights of a car. In the world of Watership Down that’s called going tharn. 

What do you think it is that has made Watership Down so successful over the years?
I think that, even though Watership Down is about rabbits, it deals with things that children are interested in but don’t get a chance to explore in other forms. Usually in children’s media, whether that is TV, film or books, you don’t get anything which is so in-depth with matters of mortality, faith and the clan-based nature that society still lives by - as well as themes of war and violence. All of these themes are really big, emotive, dangerous things to talk about with anybody. As such we often don’t talk about these things with children. Children may sit down to watch this because they think it’s a nice bedtime story about rabbits, and it is but they also get a no-holds-barred, in-depth investigation into society and why, we, as animals - because human beings are animals, despite thinking that we are this enlightened, heightened creature - do what we do.

Are there any specific themes that make Watership Down especially relevant to an audience in 2018?
I don’t know if this makes it especially relevant to now, but one of the things I have always responded to was the idea of a bunch of people - or rabbits, in this case - saying "we don’t like the way society works, so we’re going to do it on our own in a different way" - and having the bravery to go and find that freedom to live in a more gentle and less structured way. As I kid I loved that, and as an adult I really love it. 

Why should viewers tune in to watch this series?
Because it’s rabbits on the run - it’s brilliant! It’s a bunch of rabbits running for their lives, with an incredible cast, it’s got some of the best acting talent that Great Britain has to offer - that’s pretty special. The artwork is beautiful, and I think the animation is really cool.

Have you ever had a pet rabbit yourself?
No, because unfortunately I’m actually allergic to most animals you can keep as a pet. I’m allergic to almost all farm animals, cats, dogs, rabbits and lots more. So I can’t really work with them, let alone keep them. This is a good way of working with rabbits without sneezing!

An interview with Nicholas Hoult (Fiver)

Tell us about your character…
I play Fiver. He has visions - so he can see into the future, but he can’t always interpret what it means. At the start of Watership Down he discovers in a vision that Sandleford Warren - where his group of rabbits live - is going to be destroyed by humans building. Fiver tries to encourage all the rabbits in the warren to move - some take that leap of faith and believe in Fiver enough to follow him, but some don’t.

What first attracted you to this project?
I read the book a long time ago, and what I think is very cool about this version of Watership Down is that it is an adaptation of the book as opposed to a remake of the film. And as this is a mini-series, we have longer to tell the story.

I actually heard this was being made through James McAvoy, who told me about it when we were working together on X-Men. I was so excited by it, that he explained to the producers that we’re really good friends and have almost a brotherly relationship. James was playing Hazel, so it made sense for me to play Fiver, his younger brother.

How do you prepare for an animated role like this?
I lived in a hutch for five weeks to prepare for this role. I’ve only been eating carrots - I can see in the dark very well. I have big ears and a little tail that I put on when I’m at home. It’s rather like living in the playboy mansion, but it’s just me.

Have you met any of your fellow cast members?
It’s an interesting process doing this, as a lot of the time you’re on your own in a booth. Luckily, for the relationship between Fiver and Hazel, I know James McAvoy very well. I’ve worked with Olivia Colman recently, and I’ve worked with Gemma Arterton. There’s a really stellar cast, and if you’re lucky they have recorded their side of the scene first - so you get to hear them and use that to prompt your responses.

Should we be scared?
The story is scary at times. Particularly for me, watching Fiver’s nightmares, as they are fairly terrifying. But it’s all there for the story, and not unsuitable for your children to be watching with you.

Do you have anything in common with your character?
I don’t really share too much with Fiver… he doesn’t even really have my voice, because when we started recording this we realised my voice sounded too old and not young enough compared to James’ character. I have to pitch my voice up a bit and try to sound younger. It’s quite difficult at times.

What’s been one of your favourite things about working on this project?
One of the fascinating things about this - and also what makes it quite difficult - is that there’s a wonderful language in Watership Down that the rabbits use to describe human things or words… like hrududu, which means car. That’s a word you obviously don’t say every day, so that’s made it challenging at times. It’s one of the many things that I think is wonderful about Watership Down.

An interview with Gemma Arterton (Clover)

Who do you play?
I’m playing Clover. She's a hutch rabbit, so she’s not like the other rabbits who all live in the wild. Clover’s quite different - even visually she looks quite different to the other rabbits. She’s cute and fluffy. She’s never been out into the wild. She meets Fiver and Hazel when they free her so she can join them on their expedition. Clover's quite naïve at first, as she’s been very protected all of her life, but she has a desire to escape and see the world. She’s definitely got a fighter’s spirit - she’s quite a rebel. She ends up falling in love, too.

What first attracted you to the project?
Watership Down is such a classic story in British literature. I remember seeing the 1978 animation when I was very young - and being petrified by it. Having revisited the story as an adult, it’s so pertinent, especially for these days and these times. Also the team behind this are people that I’ve known and people that I’ve worked with so, although it’s a huge project, it felt like a family. I thought it would be brilliant to be involved in the new, contemporary take on Watership Down and bring it to a younger audience.

How do you prepare for an animated role like this?
This is the first real animation I’ve done where my voice is recorded first and then they animate around it. It’s bizarre to be working on something which hasn’t been visually realised yet, but it’s great because you get to be really creative with it. Noam the director wanted everyone’s essences to really be present in the characters. You’d think you’d have to do a special rabbit voice but he told me to just use my accent and voice. The book and the script inform your performance, and although the characters are rabbits the main thing was to bring out the humanity of them.

Have you met any of your fellow cast members yet?
It’s such a great, eclectic mix of the British film industry. Some of them are people who I’ve worked with before like Sir Ben Kingsley, who I did The Prince of Persia with. It was one of my first films around ten years ago. Sir Ben played a baddie and I played a princess, so it’s funny as we’ve a similar sort of dynamic in this. And Nicholas Hoult and I did a film years ago when he was a baby called Clash of the Titans. It’s quite a small world, the acting world!

I also met John Boyega years ago, before he was known. He probably doesn’t even remember this because now he’s such a huge star, but he interviewed me once when he was starting out. I think it was for his school magazine or something like that. I remember he was so sweet because I was doing a play and he came to meet me before the play and gave me some flowers. It was really sweet. He’d just done Attack The Block with my friend Jodie (Whittaker) - and she was the one who set up the meeting. And now he’s such a huge star. It’s funny. I wonder if he remembers that, I bet he doesn’t. I remember it!

Does Clover have any of your features?
She’s a white and ginger rabbit with blue eyes - so I don’t know if she looks like me. But they also film us in the studio when we are doing the dialogue and apparently often a lot of the movements come from us - so the way our eyes or noses move… There’s been a few times where I’ve had to do a rabbit sniff. Maybe the shape of her face is a little bit like mine - it’s quite round.

Can you tell us about any preparation you’ve done before recording?
I read the book when I started working on this. Ours is a really close adaptation; it’s really detailed, and because we have four episodes there is much more of Richard Adams’ story in there.

The main thing was to meet the team, the animators and get an idea of what the world was going to be like. Our animation is different to the 1978 film's animation, which was very 2D. This one has a lot more texture to it, so it was really helpful for me to understand the world that it takes place in.

How is working on a voice role different to working on a live action one?
When you are working on a live action film, you are giving everything in that moment - the physicality, the way you move, the script, the voice - everything is happening in that very moment. With an animated series, all you’re doing is giving the voice and then everything else is added in afterwards. For Watership Down, it’s such a long project - it’s taken over three years to make. I started recording it a year and a half ago and then you come back in and you record another bit. It’s layering, rather than shooting something for two months and it then being done. There is a much longer period of time where you can really layer it up. It’s a completely different process.

Watership Down has a reputation for being quite scary - should we be afraid of this?
I think in a way Watership Down is supposed to frighten people. On one level it’s a harrowing, wake-up call to get us to look at what we are doing to our environment and our society. I think without there being those elements, it wouldn’t have the impact that it has. I remember watching the 1978 film as a kid on telly and thinking it would be a lovely bunny rabbit film - and it’s not. That’s what stays with you. It’s a very epic, beautiful story - but it’s filled with tragedy as well. That’s why it caters for so many. You can read Watership Down as a kid or as an adult and it will impact you at different points in your life for certain reasons.

An interview with John Boyega (Bigwig)

Who do you play?
I'm playing Bigwig. A rabbit with a dark past - a lot of wars fought, a lot of scars to show for it. A rabbit who is tough, stern and has a really deep sense of family. He’s a great character to play and, for me, the strongest and the coolest of the bunch.

You must have been excited to join the project?
I was excited because I had no clue as to what the production team were going to do with this. When I first heard about it through my agent I didn’t know it was going to be CG, and I didn’t know that it would have this amazing British cast attached. Actors like James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, and Daniel Kaluuya - all great actors who are doing really well at the moment and, for me, it was a great opportunity to join them. I was also curious as to how they were going to do this, because the 1978 film was in 2D and it was devastating. I was devastated, I can’t lie. It was too much - it was bloody and looked a bit strange and as a kid taking that in was very scary. But this version, whilst still animation, looks a lot more real now, and it’s so interesting to take that approach. With CG you can add a sense of reality, which increases the emotional stakes for those watching it.

How do you prepare for a role like this?
You have to have a deeper sense of imagination when performing, because you’re in a booth - you're not there on a set, and you’re not able to react off anything. And in Watership Down the characters are consistently constantly moving, so you have to imagine whether at any one point you're running through a lake or crossing a road when a big car comes by, for example. 

For me, it’s playing. There are certain types of roles in which you can just play, and for me this is one of those roles. You just use your imagination. So I’m pretending to choke in a snare, or if there’s a scene where Bigwig’s eating I'll get a bowl of grapes and do the scene with lots of grapes in my mouth. I try as much as possible to re-enact what the character’s going through.

And on top of that, it all happens with the animators. They do all the magic, and our voices breathe life into the magic they do. 

How does Bigwig differ from other roles you’ve played?
I’d say that I always seem to be playing characters who haven’t found their path just yet. You meet them at a point where the film starts and they haven’t found their part or their place. Whereas with Bigwig he kinda knows where he belongs, but he just discovers more about himself through his connection with Hazel and the other bunnies. He finds his leadership, but has to go through a whole journey to discover that. It’s quite a bit different to the other roles I’ve played. Finn: Stormtrooper. Jake: Jaeger pilot. Bigwig: rabbit. I'm versatile, man!

What attracted you to Watership Down?
I wanted to be part of a great animation. Animation is something that I’m quite passionate about, and this for me was the chance to be part of a sophisticated story with a great team - and also to be part of a story that I remember growing up with. I like to be a part of things that have had an effect on me growing up. That’s why I’m part of Star Wars and Pacific Rim - it’s my way of being a part of that again.

What sets this adaptation apart from any previous ones?
I think because this Watership Down is told across four episodes you’re able to really discover and get to know the intricacies of the characters in a really intimate way. It just allows the audience to really get into that world. And the TV format makes you excited about watching the next episode of something. This is accessible to everyone on the BBC, and it's a new version of an old story with an obviously phenomenal cast. It gives a great new take on an old tale.

Why should BBC One viewers tune in?
It’s a nice opportunity to sit down with the family for an evening of Christmas animation, which is also something a little bit serious. There’s a great balance there. The whole family can watch it and all get something out of it. If I had kids I’d definitely sit down to watch Watership Down with them. To watch them cry…! No, I’m joking. It’s a fun family adventure - it’s got great VFX and a great cast of actors with recognisable voices, and it’s something I think everyone will enjoy.

What’s made the story of Watership Down so successful over the years?
I can only speak from the British perspective on this one. If you go out to the countryside, you'll see a hare or a squirrel roaming around, and for me anyway there was always that curiosity of what’s it’s like for them in day to day life. I think the journey they’re on intrigues a lot of people. The story is timeless, too. Yes it’s a story about rabbits, but actually what they’re going through resonates on a human level.