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Pre-Mr. Bates, it’s Brendan Coyle in ‘Paths to Freedom’

May 27, 2014

As with many of the individuals that have called Downton Abbey home, either upstairs or downstairs, there have been earlier acting lives that have gone relatively unnoticed since the acting ‘pot-of-gold’ that is Downton Abbey. In the case of Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), he might have actually called upon one of his earlier career efforts to gain a bit of guidance to help prepare him for the character of Mr. Bates. It was in series one of Downton that he revealed a past prison stint to Mr. Carson and then, fast forward to the end of series two and much of series three when he spent time behind bars for allegedly killing his ex-wife, Vera.
Brendan Coyle is Jeremy Fitzgerald in Paths to Freedom

In 2000, the Irish mockumentary comedy, Paths to Freedom premiered on Irish television network RTÉ Two. Starring Brendan Coyle as Dr. Jeremy Fitzgerald and Michael McElhatton as Raymond ‘Rats’ Doyle, Paths to Freedom follows the lives of two recently released inhabitants from Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison as they try to reintegrate back into society. Upon release, they agree to be filmed as part of a documentary following what life is like for former prisoners once they are released.

Jeremy and Rats are from very different backgrounds. While Rats has been in and out of trouble throughout his whole part-time poet and musician life, it’s pretty clear that Jeremy is a few cards short of a full deck after prison. A distinguished consultant gynecologist who has now lost his license after prison, he shows his love of a wealthy style of life by driving a new Mercedes-Benz, playing golf at his local club ‘The Fitzhatton’ and repeatedly describing his admiration of Michael Flatley. When Jeremy is questioned by the camera crew as to what affect prison has had on him, and he responds that it caused him to lose his ‘no-claims bonus’ and raise his golf handicap by six strokes.

Unfortunately, there was only one series of Paths to Freedom. Of note also is that Jeremy’s wife, Helen, in Paths to Freedom is played by Deirdre O’Kane, who can be seen in the Chris O’Dowd’s brilliant Moone Boy as Martin Moone’s Mom, Debra. Give it a look while you pass the time before series 5 of Downton Abbey begins.

Don’t Panic – only 364 days until Towel Day 2015!

May 26, 2014

With major apologies for neglecting to give everyone a heads up that yesterday was Towel Day, I’ll begin by saying that there are only 364 days until the 2015 Towel Day celebration. On the outside chance you don’t know what Towel Day is, it’s an annual celebration of the life and works of the late English writer Douglas Adams. You see, it was Adams’ classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or H2G2, that alerted Planet Earth to that fact that a towel is one of the most useful items to carry with you around the universe.

The first Towel Day took place two weeks after Adams passed away far too young from a heart attack on May 11, 2001 as a no-brainer way for fans to pay their respects. With 364 days until the next Towel Day, there are any number of places and events to consider when making your celebratory plans. According to towelday.org, there are organized events in 22 different countries around the world with festivals for froods everywhere.

  • There’s the annual Towel Olympics held in Paris. Events include the towel throw, towel combat, towel skipping, and towel superman, a sort of long jump carried out while wearing your towel like a cape. The traditional final event is the towel carry, where each team carries one of its members around a course on a towel, naturally.
  • In Norway, the Kolumbus public transport company hands out free towels equipped with electronic passes that allow holders to travel free on its buses and boats from 12.42pm.
  • Other international festivities which mark the day include readings of Vogon poetry which, as any H2G2 fan will tell you, is the third-worst in the galaxy, treasure hunts, flash mobs, and the creation and drinking of the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters, which are said to be “the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging, expensive AND bad for the head“.

If you head to Dresden next year, you might be lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a Towel Day Flash Mob…

Happy Towel Day to all. Start making plans now for 25.5.2015. Don’t say we didn’t remind you in time to make plans.

Happy 75! – Sir Ian McKellen

May 25, 2014

One of most brilliant actors of all-time, Sir Ian McKellen, turns 75 years young today.

Like Dame Judi Dench, retirement is not in Ian McKellen’s vocabulary. At 75, with six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Academy Award nominations, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy Award nominations in his rear view mirror, Sir Ian McKellen is having the time of his life.
Sir Ian McKellen turns 25 on May 25, 2014

With a career ranging from a 1959 performance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV opposite Derek Jacobi and Trevor Nunn to his 2014 reprisal of Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past, what lies in-between is almost too much for anyone to fathom. There are leading roles in a number of Shakespeare plays including MacBeth, Othello and King Lear, a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons, film roles in Gods and Monsters, The Da Vinci Code, four X-Men features, three Lord of the Rings and three Hobbit movies where he has played Gandalf for coming up upon fifteen years. His most recent effort, currently in pre-production, has him cast as Sherlock Holmes – a retired Sherlock Holmes looking back on his life grappling with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman in A Slight Trick of the Mind.

Amidst all of this, he found time to be part of the cast of Coronation Street, appear as #2 in the American re-make of The Prisoner and host Saturday Night Live. Almost lost in the sea of brilliant acting efforts is his first foray into situation comedy that premiered in the UK last year and finds it’s way to America beginning Sunday, June 29 on PBS. McKellen plays Freddie Thornhill, an over-the-hill actor whose career consisted mainly of bit parts, alongside Sir Derek Jacobi who plays Stuart Bixby, his partner for over 49 years in their Covent Garden flat. They both seem to be having the time of their lives with one series and a Christmas special of Vicious already in the books and a second series set to film in the not-too-distant future.

Warning: Language flags ahead.

The original title for Vicious was Vicious Old Queens. Rumor has it that, in true Sir Ian McKellen quick-witted fashion, he objected to the title stating that “I’m not old!. So, Happy Birthday, Sir Ian. Please don’t ever retire.

Capaldi’s TARDIS set to land in August!

May 24, 2014

How can something say so little, yet speak volumes in a mere :15 seconds? It’s easy when it comes to yesterday’s brilliant news out of the UK that the new series of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor will premiere on BBC One in August. I know what happens when one assumes, but going out on a limb I’m going to both guess and hope that this means the TARDIS will land on BBC America within hours of the UK premiere. Take a look. It’s :15 seconds well spent.

While there have been a few early production pics from the set showing Capaldi and companion, Jenna Colman, to tide us over, most of the news so far has been to continue to tease us with series 8 guest star announcements such as Ben Miller (Primeval, Death in Paradise), Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, Tom Riley (Lewis, Twenty Twelve) and Hermione Norris (Crimson Field, Spooks). Thankfully, more production pics are leaking out daily! What’s up with the bright orange space suit?
Doctor Who production pics

Just to add a bit more anxiety to the having to wait until August situation, Mark Gatiss said of the new Doctor: “There’s madness in his eyes! He’s just an amazing dramatic actor and a very funny actor – which is exactly what you want for the Doctor.” I SO can’t wait. What about you?

Nick Frost’s Mr. Sloane: A 60′s two-woman man

May 23, 2014

Sloane with an “e”…like the Square

It has been some time since I first screened Mr. Sloane. It was back in February at the 2014 BBC Showcase in Liverpool where we first came across this fairly non-descript situation comedy starring Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Cuban Fury. The really charming romantic comedy is written and directed by Robert B. Weide, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. Besides getting a chance to screen, we were also treated to a quick Q&A with both actor and writer who talked about putting the show together. PBS fans will immediately remember the name of Bob Weide, maybe not from ‘Curb’ but from his early 80′s documentary, The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell.
Mr. Sloane

Premiering tonight at 9p on Sky Atlantic, Mr. Sloane is definitely worth the time commitment. Jeremy Sloane (with an “e”, like the Square) is a really, really nice guy. Unfortunately, a really nice guy not quite ready for the swinging 60′s as he goes through a fairly sizable rough patch in life. He’s a buttoned-down 1960′s man in crisis trying to balance his failed attempts at marriage, career success and even suicide. It’s fair to say that 1969 isn’t shaping up to be the Watford-dweller’s year. Things are looking up, however, with a potential job opportunity on the horizon and the phone number of a prospective new love interest following a chance encounter in his local hardware store.

Mr. Sloane also stars Olivia Colman as Mrs. Janet ‘I need to go find myself’ Sloane, Ophelia Lovibond as Robin, the knockout woman in the hardware store that gets Jeremy to open his eyes and experience life a bit more, and Peter Serafinowicz as his ‘best’ mate. Take a look…

Having had the good fortune to screen the entire first series back-to-back-to-back, one can only hope that plans are in the works for a second series in the not-too-distant future as these first six are going to leave you wanting more. Let’s hope that series 1 makes it to this side of the pond ASAP.

Crime Connections – Endeavour

May 22, 2014

From Prime Suspect to Inspector Morse, Cracker to Lewis to the more recent Scott & Bailey and DCI Banks, British police procedurals are flat out brilliant telly. Never has this been more evident than when you look back at the ‘Inspector Morse’ progression from the original series starring John Thaw to Lewis to the most recent incarnation, Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans.

Another element that British producers excel at are the behind-the-scenes bits and bobs that American television viewers usually know as the ‘DVD extras’. Getting to go behind the scenes and hear the back story as to how a series was put together from not only the actors perspective but to also hear the producer, director or costume designer speak to the level of detail to which they go to to put the best product on the small screen is great telly that shouldn’t be relegated to an obscure menu item on a DVD boxed set.

In the case of Endeavour which returns to PBS beginning Sunday, June 29 for 4 new episodes, the ITV series Crime Connections took a look at the monumental task before those involved in the creation the ‘prequel’ which was to initially get past the obvious comparisons to John Thaw in the original Inspector Morse series.

Get ready for series 2 of Endeavour coming to PBS beginning Sunday, June 29 at 9pET/8pCT, bookended by the premiere of series 2 of Last Tango in Halifax at 8pET/7pCT and the series premiere of Vicious with Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen following at 10:30pET/9:30pCT. Going to be a great summer of telly!

‘Call the Midwife’ cast additions for series 4 and…a Christmas surprise for those who can wait

May 21, 2014

PBS viewers in America barely were able to see the fade to black following Sunday’s series 3 Call the Midwife finale before the news filtered out about cast additions for series 4, which is targeted for an early 2015 transmission in the UK and an early Spring 2015 return on PBS in America. Series 4 has the inhabitants of Nonnatus House tentatively entering into a new decade. No word yet as to who will be returning but I’m guessing we’ll see most of the nuns and midwives try to hold on to at least some of their traditional values while experiencing the beginning of the swinging ’60s in London’s East End.

Joining the cast for the forthcoming series 4 will be Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat) as Nurse Barbara Gilbert and Linda Bassett (Grandma’s House, Calendar Girls as Nurse Phyllis Crane. Bassett, you may also remember, played Queenie in the BBC series, Lark Rise to Candleford.

If you haven’t seen Sunday’s finale…DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

If you have, then you are well aware that we all said a tearful goodbye to Poplar’s original midwife, Jenny Lee, played brilliantly by Jessica Raine. Where’s the Christmas surprise, you’re asking at this point? Well, while we may have seen the last of a young Jenny Lee, Vanessa Redgrave, who narrates the opening and closing moments of each episode, will be making her first on-screen appearance as the mature Jenny Lee in this year’s Christmas special airing this holiday season on BBC One and PBS.

Pippa Harris, executive producer for Neal Street Productions said: “We’re all delighted to be welcoming Vanessa Redgrave on screen, having hugely enjoyed her narration of the series to date. It’s also terrific that Heidi Thomas has created two wonderful new characters for the series, and that we’re fortunate enough to have Linda Bassett and Charlotte Ritchie joining our regular and much loved team at Nonnatus House“.

Mark your calendars for early 2015 on BBC One and Sunday, March 29, 2015 on PBS…

Sherlock 4 ‘news’ for you

May 20, 2014

Co-creator/writer, Mark Gatiss, likened IT to ‘organizing a massive UN conference’. The “IT” Gatiss was referring to was nailing down filming dates for the next installment of Sherlock. Maybe herding cats is a better analogy that we can all relate to.

Speaking in this exclusive video to RadioTimes.com on the red carpet at Sunday’s BAFTA TV Awards, Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, did reveal that they had made ‘significant progress’ in locking in dates for the fourth series. As everyone is keenly aware, the insane schedules of co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman coupled with the equally as busy schedules of both Gatiss and Steven Moffat has long been a logistical problem. Let’s not even get in to the increasingly busy calendars of Amanda Abbington, Una Stubbs, Louise Brealey, Rupert Graves and, of course, Andrew Scott (Miss Me?).

While this is, technically, not new information, it does seem like the ball is rolling in the right direction. Don’t put a red X on a date in 2015 just yet but it sure is tempting.

10 British things about….(insert U.S. city here)

May 19, 2014

Besides an insatiable appetite for British telly, American cities are increasingly becoming like their British counterparts from a cuisine and/or pop culture standpoint. Whether you’re in Seattle, Portland (Maine), Fargo, San Antonio or any point in-between, there’s a good chance your city is more ‘British’ than you think. Thanks to some around-the-clock stellar work from the folks over at Anglophenia, whether you are a resident of any of these U.S. cities, looking for a day trip or even if you live in the UK and are heading this way for a bit of a summer holiday and need a Bangers and Mash fix, the sun might never set on something to do British in the States.

Just in case you’re in the North Texas area and are wondering what could possibly be British about Dallas, we need to get you out more. Besides the 10 things listed, I came up with about 15 more without thinking too much about it. Or, head to Austin. How many knew there was such a thing as the Central Texas Cricket League? Wherever you go, we want pictures. Me? I may just head over to Phoenix for the London Bus Pub Crawl.

Get out the tissues, it’s series 3 finale time for ‘Call the Midwife’ on PBS

May 18, 2014

This season’s Call the Midwife has been the best yet. Let’s just say tonight’s emotional series 3 finale will not disappoint. However, it might just be a two box of tissues evening. To prepare you for what UK viewers have known for a couple of months, here’s a quick episode by episode series 3 recap to quickly bring you up to speed. As you can imagine, many, many SPOILER ALERTS ahead if you haven’t seen series 3….

  • Episode 1: It’s 1959 and the nuns and midwives move into a new Nonnatus House. Chummy (Miranda Hart) struggles to adjust to life as a housewife. After delivering a baby in an emergency, however, Chummy is asked to return to Nonnatus House as a part-time midwife.
  • Episode 2: Jenny (Jessica Raine) is promoted to the position of nursing sister over a more experienced Trixie (Helen George), which causes resentment between the two. Cynthia attempts to introduce more modern approaches to relaxation and pain relief during childbirth despite a bit of resistance from Sister Evangelina.
  • Episode 3: Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) and Trixie are called upon when the regular midwifery team at HM Prison Holloway is stricken with influenza and find some very trying conditions. Shelagh and Dr. Turner long to start a family and are devastated when it is found that, as a result of her earlier tuberculosis, she is unable to have children.
  • Episode 4: Jenny’s boyfriend Alec invites her to spend the weekend with him in Brighton. However, he is involved in an accident at work and, although he initially seems to be recovering, he takes a turn for the worse and dies, leaving Jenny devastated. Following her news of not being able to have a family, Shelagh attempts to find a new purpose in life by reviving the Poplar Choral Society and Jenny is persuaded to take compassionate leave and go to stay at the nuns’ mother house for a time.
  • Episode 5: With Jenny away and Sister Julienne taken ill, Shelagh takes over the administration of Nonnatus House and engages the services of new midwife Patsy Mount (Emerald Fennell). Sally, a woman with Down’s syndrome, living in a residential home, has become pregnant. Her family are angry and believe that one of the staff must have abused her, but it turns out she has formed a relationship with Jacob, another resident at the home. The staff refuse to accept that the couple’s relationship is genuine and, after the baby is stillborn, Jacob is removed to another home in Scotland.
  • Episode 6: Trixie is beside herself when handsome curate Tom Hereward invites her to a cricket match, but is less impressed to find that they are taking a group of Cub Scouts to Clacton-on-Sea in a run-down old bus which breaks down en route. Shelagh and Dr. Turner resolve to look into adopting a child.
  • Episode 7: Jenny returns to work, but is seconded to the London Hospital, where she finds her approach to patient care hampered by strict regulations. Chummy is surprised to find that her parents have separated, and invites her mother to stay, despite the haughty Lady Browne’s disdain for her daughter’s lifestyle. Later, Chummy is devastated to learn that her mother is suffering from terminal cancer. Shelagh and Dr. Turner’s plan to adopt a child is threatened when background checks reveal that he spent time in a military mental institution after serving in the Second World War.
  • Episode 8: (get out the Kleenex)


Never a series to shy away from difficult subjects, the current season of Call the Midwife has dealt with cystic fibrosis, influenza, Down’s syndrome, puerperal psychosis and death. After all that, tonight’s episode is as much of an emotional roller coaster as you can imagine. On the upside, you can safely watch knowing that Call the Midwife has been commissioned for a fourth series set for early 2015 transmission with a holiday special on the way soon. It doesn’t get any better than this…

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