The Real Marigold Hotel was gentle and decidedly winning – series 2 review

Inspired, as last time, by John Madden’s light-hearted 2012 feature film of similar name, The Real Marigold Hotel (BBC One) took eight veteran showbiz types and plonked them together in a full-board guest-house in India to see if they might consider the region a nice place to retire to. This time, the locations was the charming city of Kochi, Kerala, at the extreme south west of that vast, magical country.

As entertainment, this was all gentle almost to a fault, but decidedly winning. Lionel Blair (87), Amanda Barrie (80), Bill Oddie (75), Miriam Stoppard (79) et al proved a remarkably engaging – not to mention startlingly well-preserved – lot, and little character arcs were already appearing.

It took only an afternoon on the Keralan backwaters for Blair – who initially described the close presence of a placid goat as "horrific" – to realise that he was in fact in one of the most beautiful and tranquil places on earth. The take-no-prisoners bullishness of former Three Degrees member Sheila Ferguson (who looks 40 at most) was initially grating.

But a day or three at this new, serenely tropical pace, and a little morning yoga, was all it took to calm her down, while her un-self-pityingly told backstory – sensitively teased out of her by former Just Good Friends star Paul Nicholas (72) – I warmed to her considerably.

Indeed, Nicholas was the star full-stop. Having not seen an up-to-date photograph of him for decades, I confess I was momentarily startled to see the older version, sans all those tumbling blond locks. But the minute he spoke, it was clear that the voice, grin and charm were entirely unchanged, and his quest to find some new underpants – which culminated in his bashfully emerging with eight incongruously Playboy-branded pairs – was a definite highlight. 

Meanwhile, TV chef Rustie Lee invaded the already bustling kitchen like a well-meaning battleship (one thing Keralans need absolutely no help with is cooking, bless her), and Amanda Barrie enraptured a local by telling him it was she who played the unfeasibly alluring titular siren in Carry On Cleo. It was tricky to know whether to be endeared more by his complete delight in her company, or by the undimmed twinkle in her enormous eyes.

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