The Real Marigold on Tour, review: why this rumbustious series shows no sign of retiring

Miriam Margolyes, Sheila Ferguson, Bobby George, Stanley Johnson in The Real Marigold on Tour - 1
Miriam Margolyes, Sheila Ferguson, Bobby George, Stanley Johnson in The Real Marigold on Tour - 1

The formidable Miriam Margolyes returned to our screens last night in The Real Marigold on Tour (BBC Two) and quickly showed that she has lost none of her endearing frankness. Now a veteran of this series that takes “famous senior citizens” to experience life in foreign countries, she was one of four on this latest trip to Russia – and happily gave her views on her fellow travellers.

There was Stanley Johnson, former politician and father of the former foreign secretary: “I don’t know much about Stanley,” Margolyes confessed. “So it will be a voyage of discovery.

But Boris Johnson is a pillock.” As for Miriam’s old friend Bobby George, the former darts player: “I love him. He’s eatable.” (An image you may not want to dwell on.) And there was Sheila Ferguson, former member of the Three Degrees: “I like Sheila, because she is very tall and very noisy and her t---s are falling out of her dress. What’s not to like?”

This is the sort of rumbustiousness that has made these programmes so popular. We don’t seem to tire of frank, OAPs being slightly rude about people, places and each other. When The Real Marigold Hotel started three years ago, as a reality spin-off from the comedy film about British pensioners in India, it seemed likely to be a one-hit wonder. But it left India, went on tour, is now back for its sixth series overall and – like its participants – shows no sign of fading away.

The joy of the programme is not the search “for the perfect place to retire” (would anyone really pick St Petersburg, with 118 days of snow a year?), but the fun the group have along the way. They discovered that local pensioners take part in a national fitness programme based on Stalin’s 1931 “Get Ready for Labour and Defence” scheme and reintroduced by Vladimir Putin. The workouts and running seemed sensible; the grenade-throwing exercises were alarming.

After finding that beer was cheap, Johnson and George struck up a camaraderie over a few pints. A Navy Day display featuring 40 warships got Johnson so excited he might have taken up residency for that alone. Meanwhile, Sheila’s rendition of When Will I See You Again, at a community show with a Russian pensioner on the piano, provided an unexpectedly moving moment.

According to Margolyes, “Getting old is great fun if you handle it the right way” – and the programme did its best to demonstrate that. Even George – who has had a broken back, a replacement hip, a replacement knee and three toes removed – enjoyed himself, which is pretty good going.