Small-Screen Jabber 8-14 April

Factual

Two very different ways to hitch a ride go head to head. Warship (Mon, C4, 8pm) is a three-parter about HMS Ocean, one of the Navy’s prime flagships. It’s veritable floating village – as well as the sailors primed for military deployment, there are on-board shops, laundries, a police constabulary and even a store of baby supplies in case they need to rescue migrants adrift in the middle of the Mediterranean. In this opening episode, the ageing Ocean sets sail from Plymouth to the Middle East, to join a US task force, but there’s engine trouble, bad weather ahead and the pilots have barely three weeks to learn how to manoeuvre helicopters on and off a moving carrier. Paul Merton steps into Michael Portillo’s shoes when he takes a genteel trip on the steam train The Jacobite in Grand Tours of Scotland (Mon, BBC2, 8.30pm). Armed with his own edition of a rival Victorian railway guide, Merton’s on a renowned route that takes him from Fort William and the foothills of Ben Nevis across the highlands to the Isle of Skye. And if the train looks familiar to filmgoers, it’s because it doubled up as the Hogwarts Express.

knowledge toughest taxi testIf you’ve ever fancied driving a black cab for a living, you’ll need The Knowledge: the World’s Toughest Taxi Test (Wed, C4, 9pm). As descriptive titles go, I couldn’t put it better. Candidates take an average four years to learn London’s streets – all 25,000 of them, plus all the tourist attractions and landmarks. Very few pass the exam, and this is a fascinating glimpse into the secret world of would-be cabbies – we follow a single mum, a Kosovan immigrant and a bus driver as they study, then sit the oral test. It’s like Mastermind, but way more tense and surprisingly emotional as they rattle off the routes then hear whether they have made the grade as an elite human satnav.

Every day, families deal with fear, heartache and even grief when a loved one goes missing. Most of the 270,000 a year who disappear turn up very quickly, but some don’t and Reported Missing (Wed, BBC1, 9pm) follows Durham police as they deal with the many cases on their patch. The opening episode of this gripping four-part series focuses on two vulnerable teens – Joshua, 12, who has learning difficulties and walked out after a family row, and 13-year-old Katie, who has left a note hinting at suicide after being bullied at school. The police scramble all their resources to find them before tragedy strikes.

Music

an evening with take thatBoyband fans can revel in An Evening with Take That (Sat, ITV, 8.30pm). An evening is stretching it for a show lasting just an hour, and with only three members remaining, but they’re playing old hits and performing new tracks in front of an exclusive audience of fans. Rumour has it (no previews were available) that they’ve also been rummaging in the dressing-up box. Later Live... with Jools Holland (Tues, BBC2, 10pm) returns for its 50th series. 50! This opener features indie rockers Kasabian showcasing tracks from the new album, Goldfrapp and Thundercat plus Texan rock band Spoon.

Culture

The British equivalent to the Oscars – for stage actors – is The Olivier Awards (Tues, ITV, 8pm), dubbed here as “The Biggest Night in British Theatre” although it hardly needs flagging like that. Jason Manford is the host at the Royal Albert Hall and it looks like it will be an exciting night as actor turned MP turned actor again Glenda Jackson is up for a gong for her performance in King Lear and it’s her first nomination since 1984. Esteemed colleagues also hoping for wins include Tom Hollander, Sir Ian McKellen, Ed Harris and Billie Piper, while Kenneth Branagh is set to receive a special award.

Comedy

miriam margolyes bucket embedMiriam Margolyes – eccentric, free-spirited, hilarious and a touch bonkers – plays Mim, a character not unlike herself in Bucket (Thurs, BBC4, 10pm), a sitcom about a 70-year-old drawing up an unusual bucket list of things to do before her terminal illness catches up with her. Daughter Fran (Frog Stone, who wrote Bucket) agrees reluctantly to join Mim on her road trip – she’s nervy, reserved and prim, the complete antithesis of her sweary, rude and irrepressible mother, but it’s a last chance to bond. The par have terrific on-screen chemistry and the writing is sharp and rib-achingly accurate.

Entertainment

acorn antiques embedThe late, great Victoria Wood and her incredible body of work are celebrated in Our Friend Victoria (Tues, BBC1, 9.30pm), in six 30-minute slices hosted by longtime collaborator Julie Walters. It’s a fine tribute to one of the UK’s finest comic writer-performers, just a year after her death, with classic clips from the likes of Acorn Antiques and Dinnerladies, a dip into Wood’s personal archives and input from her many regular co-stars such as Maxine Peake, Shobna Gulati, Celia Imrie and Richard E. Grant.

Sport

A big sporting weekend has The Grand National (Sat, ITV, 2pm) at its heart. Live from Aintree, the racing starts at 2.25pm proper, with the big (and increasingly controversial) steeplechase under starter’s orders at 5.15pm. The World Cup of Gymnastics (Sat, Sky Sports Mix, 1pm) features quite a few of our Rio 2016 stars – Max Whitlock, Ellie Downie and Brinn Bevan among those hoping for wins at the O2 Arena. It’s also Davis Cup weekend (Sat/Sun, BBC1/BBC2, from 1.10pm) – Team GB lost the first two singles rubbers on the Friday in Rouen against France. A doubles win on Saturday will mean the reverse singles will go ahead on Sunday. Otherwise France will advance to the semis.

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Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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