A more modest view of Aidan Turner.
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Second helpings: even with its sea vistas and a firm, pink bottom, Poldark fails to shine

The new Poldark looks like a tourist board campaign for Cornwall, only with stagecoaches where there should be surfboards.

When the original Poldark went out in the 1970s, it was said that some Church of England vicars rescheduled their services so as not to have to compete with Ross and Demelza for the loyalty of their congregations. That speaks loudly of how much Britain has changed in the decades since. Hardly anyone goes to church now, and those who do can easily record the stuff they’ll miss. More to the point, it seems pretty unlikely that even a whizzy new version of Poldark (Sundays, 9pm), adapted for the BBC by Debbie Horsfield (Cutting It, True Dare Kiss), will bring in 14 million viewers and have them hanging on its every tricorn hat today. I mean, it’s quite good fun as 18th-century Cornish tin-mining and smuggling dramas go but I wouldn’t miss evensong for it. Whatever will the BBC dish up next? A rebooted Onedin Line? A sexed-up When the Boat Comes In? The mind boggles.

The new Poldark looks like a tourist board campaign for Cornwall, only with stagecoaches where there should be surfboards. On the plus side, you can hear every word, even over the roar of the waves, which will come as a relief to anyone who endured the recent mumblefest that was Jamaica Inn. On the downside, Aidan Turner makes for only a moderately attractive Ross Poldark, back from the American war of independence to reclaim his motley inheritance. At the end of the first episode, a trailer showed his firm, pink bottom cresting the azure sea, an aerial shot that suggested the BBC is hoping for Colin Firth-style traction with the ladies in the matter of Mr Turner. But I can’t say I was in a fever of excitement. He’s too bland, too cut-out-and-keep. Somehow you know in your bones that up close he’d smell not of sweat, horses, woodsmoke and pheromones, but of Badedas and quiet ambition. Yes, Eleanor Tomlinson will do fine as Demelza, the maidservant he’ll soon marry, but his true love, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), has the most laughably non-18th-century teeth I’ve ever seen – incisors that seem all the more ludicrous next to those of Poldark’s servant Jud Paynter (Phil Davis), which look like half-sucked offcuts of liquorice.

The Poldark trailer.

I had higher hopes of In and Out of the Kitchen (Wednesdays, 10pm), a new BBC4 comedy written by and starring Miles Jupp, which aims to take the piss out of Damien Trench, a certain kind of food writer: the kind that stares mournfully at their rosemary bush in the morning frost, thinks a few poetic thoughts about roast chicken and remembrance, and then picks up the phone to their high-powered agent to chase their next TV series. Alas, it falls flatter than your average artisanal spinach-and-ricotta pancake, mainly because its “jokes” feel so familiar. For one thing, Damien’s agent is always being hassled by Salman Rushdie (a gag that might have been lifted straight from W1A). And if it wasn’t bad enough that the agent takes Damien to lunch at a hip new place called Zeitgeist – this is satire by numbers – his client then orders a dish called “fizzy beef”, which turns out to be steak with a bottle of Coke poured over it.

It’s impossible to believe in the relationship between Damien and his partner, Anthony (Justin Edwards). They just aren’t a pair. In the first episode Anthony embarked on a courgette soup diet, of which Damien disapproved on the grounds of its faddishness and the stink it made. “It’s like you’re cooking a pond,” he yelped. There followed much rushing by Anthony to the downstairs loo, which soon became so whiffy that Damien’s builders refused to use it. Now, wind jokes have their place in life but mainly I wondered: why wouldn’t Damien just take over? He’s the cook. And why did the soup smell so awful? Courgettes are unassuming vegetables, gentle and mild. Verisimilitude is vital to comedy, whether we’re talking The League of Gentlemen (however grotesque the people of Royston Vasey are, we still recognise them, on some level) or a show that goes after types who obsess about warm salads and larder staples.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood