The TV shows to watch this week: From Election 2019 to Elizabeth is Missing

Sean O'Grady
A red panda cub emerges from its Chester Zoo den in 'The Secret Life of the Zoo': Channel 4

Can it be true? Will the election really be over on Thursday?

Erm, yes, but if you can’t really can’t believe it, or indeed comprehend what is happening to the country, in all sorts of ways, then perhaps the broadcasters’ election night specials will convince you that the past few months haven’t been a complete hallucination, that the choice of leader facing the country really is between Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson, and that, as the politicians say, change is on the way. Or possibly not. Could be a hung parliament…

The general election night special is one of the great “set piece” events for live TV, and all the broadcasters put everything they’ve got into it (Actually ITV gave up a bit a few years ago, but it’s nice to see them casting a vote, so to speak, this time round). There seems little chance that the BBC will relinquish its position as the most trusted provider of election data, as it has for many decades now.

John Curtice’s exit poll proved remarkably accurate in 2017

Rather than veteran David Dimbleby, this time round we have the equally authoritative, calm and collected Huw Edwards who, one hopes will not be caught with a Mars bar in his mouth (the highlight of the 1987 show). The BBC have got Professor Sir John Curtice’s wisdom on tap again – a man who almost makes the whole £100m business of holding a general election redundant – plus some lanky clown doing a lame impression of Peter Snow (much missed) and, you’d expect, state-of-the-art graphics.

Edwards and the crew are up against Tom Bradby on ITV (he’s inherited the ancestral seat once occupied by Jonathan Dimbleby); Dermot Murghnahan on Sky News; and Krishnan Guru-Murthy (minus ice sculptures) on Channel 4.

Sad to relate, television’s excellent female political minds are in less prominent roles than the chaps anchoring affairs – Kirsty Wark, Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler will be helping out on the BBC though, and Clare Balding will be gathering the results for Sky. However, it is an all-male bunch of anchors on Thursday night. The coup – so far – is the recruitment by Sky News of former Commons speaker John “Ohhrrrrrderrrr!” Bercow. He is standing down now, and, I imagine, feels little further need for scrupulous impartiality about his former charges. Indeed, Sky News viewers will be treated to a good few hours of Bercow himself “chuntering from a sedentary position”, and, I presume, paid good money for doing so. Should be excellent value.

Yes, I think it is too early for a snap election – but is it too early for Christmas carols? Not with the capable hands, and indeed tongue, of Lucy Worsley. It might not be the most original idea, the history of carols, but whatever little I ever leaned about the origins of these familiar tunes I’ve forgotten in a haze of advocaat and Bushmills (unusual but pleasantly potent cocktail).

Lucy Worsley ponders what happened while shepherds washed their socks by night (BBC)

In the self-explanatory Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odyssey, Worsley takes us carolling from medieval times through the strictures of Cromwell’s puritan revolution (when fun was basically banned), through to modern fables and tunes of today – but stopping short of Mud, Wizzard, Wham! and Sir Cliff Richard. Featuring performances from The Kingdom Choir and the Hampton Court Choir. Can’t go wrong, can you?

Christmas, and the ever longer long lead-in to it, is a time for; diabetes-inducing sentimental supermarket ads for panettonne, carrots and crisps; insanely misjudged celebrity seasonal vehicles; Her Majesty’s Christmas message to the Commonwealth (heaven knows what she’s going to say about prorogation, Andrew and Meghan suing the Mail); and, of course, cute animals.

None cuter, surely, than the red panda. This arboreal beauty isn’t much like its more famous big fat distant cousin the giant panda, which grabs all the attention. Rather the red panda is making its own, much quieter way to extinction, waddling like an obese fox to join the passenger pigeon, various rhino and the Tasmanian Tiger on humanity’s “whoops!” list.

Still, Chester Zoo have a got a few, and they star in Channel 4’s greatly underappreciated The Secret Life of the Zoo​. There’s also a camel and some fish. Like in the Bible.

Maud (Glenda Jackson) is convinced something terrible has happened to her best friend Elizabeth (BBC)

Elsewhere, Glenda Jackson is back in the drama of the week, Elizabeth is Missing, about a woman with Alzheimer’s. She is, against the odds, trying to solve a mystery she didn’t know existed, so to speak. National treasure and all that, but it really is true – so when will they put her in the House of Lords? (As a former MP as well, she’s pretty much entitled.)

I wish it could be a general election every day.

Election 2019 (BBC1/ITV/Channel 4/Sky News, Thursday 9.55pm); Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odyssey (BBC4, Monday 9pm); The Secret Life of the Zoo (Channel 4, Wednesday 8pm); Elizabeth is Missing (BBC1, Sunday 9pm)

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