The Cricklewood Greats (BBC4)

The slick Scot's spoof documentary is just right.

I intended this column to be a review of The Diamond Queen, a "major" new series about our monarch, presented by Andrew Marr. Until, that is, I discovered from the BBC that no previews of the programme were available: not for me, not for anyone. Loath as I am to make cheap jokes about superinjunctions, isn't this a little over the top? The idea that Prince William thinks granny is really, like, cool - I've seen the trailers; it is impossible to own a television and not see the trailers because the BBC seems to show at least eight of them every night - is hardly hot news.

How, then, to account for it? Hmm. In the Radio Times, Marr writes that he knew from the start that making the series "would not be a straightforward assignment", a statement that hints at critical distance. But there then follows the usual meringue of praise for the crown-wearing one, a confection of cliches born of gratitude for access: the "cracking" pace at which she carries out engagements, the "astonishing" workload, the "sense of duty" we would all do well to ape. All I can think is that a little part of him is a touch embarrassed by all this knee-bending. No one likes a lickspittle, especially of the journalistic variety.

Oh, well. Onwards. Peter Capaldi: now there's a man. I saw him the other day at Lime Street station in Liverpool, his thin, chalky face dominated by a large pair of Ray-Bans. Some actors wear sunglasses because they want to be noticed (while pretending, of course, that their heart's desire is total anonymity). Capaldi was wearing his because - this was quite obvious - he thought them exceedingly cool and it was a tiny bit sunny. While we waited for the train, he just sat there, lizard-style, entirely still. Capaldi, you gather, knows what he likes and it shows in his work.

The Cricklewood Greats (5 February, 9pm) was a fond spoof of those reverential documentaries about Ealing and Hammer - the ones usually presented by knowledgeable fans (Matthew Sweet, say, or Mark Gatiss). Capaldi "presented" this one, but he also wrote it (with Tony Roche), directed it, and made all its artwork (he went to art school and still draws every day), with the result that you felt the love in every frame and were therefore able to forgive it for not always being hilariously funny. It was an unexpectedly exquisite thing, and it wore its learning lightly.

Neatly, it sat next to Carry On Loving in the BBC4 schedule (5 February, 7.30pm). In The Cricklewood Greats, the Carry On films became the Thumbs Up series, complete with extracts from the diaries of a Kenneth Williams-ish figure called Jerry Pollock. The story began, though, at the home of Tim Dempsey, a noted Cricklewood collector (played by Alex MacQueen, better known as Neil's dad in The Inbetweeners), where relics of the old days - a luxuriant eyebrow, an exploded bowler hat - were carefully brought out for worship.

The film then took us from the studio's heyday in the 1930s (there was a Gracie Fields-alike who blotted her copybook by hanging with Hitler), to its craze for horror in the 1950s (in a film called Dr Worm, a scientist turned into, well, a worm), and finally to the man whose ambition ultimately destroyed it, Terry Gilliam (delightfully, he played himself).

At every moment the pastiches were absolutely right; had you come into the room late, you might just have taken them for the real thing. Lots of delicious bathos, too: a pilgrimage to the site of the studio, which turned out to be a branch of Wickes; the "revelation" that Jenny Driscoll, sexy star of the Thumbs Up films, had not disappeared abroad after Pollock's tragic death but had auditioned for the part of Olive in On The Buses. I never hooted but I smiled throughout. Capaldi's film, warm and knowing, flattered the viewer with its cultural in-jokes, without ever beginning the long, dark, fruitless journey up its own backside.

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 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Boris vs Ken