Nolly review: The Queen of Crossroads who was happy to hop on a bus, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

Nolly

Rating:

The 1970s Dinner Party 

Rating:

Any celeb can ride in a Roller or cross the Atlantic on a cruise liner. It takes a true star to leap aboard the No 51 bus.

Noele Gordon (Helena Bonham Carter) raised two fingers to the bullying producers who were sacking her from Crossroads, at the climax of the second episode of Nolly (ITV1), by going to town on a double decker.

If the television bosses thought they could deny her an audience, they were wrong. Noele was almost as widely recognised as the Queen in her heyday. Her combination of regal grandeur and everyday charm earned her millions of fans, many of them happy to believe that she really did run a motel on the outskirts of Birmingham… and that Generation Game host Larry Grayson really was her fiance.

Bonham Carter perfectly captures her imperial campness, the mixture of hauteur and vulnerability that defeated any man who tried to order her about. The scene on the bus epitomised this, as Noele bestowed smiles upon her subjects (a group of housewives) before wittily humiliating a little man in a grubby mac who dared to dismiss soap operas as ‘a load of women’s rubbish’.

Mark Gatiss played Grayson, mimicking the airy delivery but adding an overtone of sadness, even coarseness. The real Larry projected an innocence that enabled him to get away with the wickedest double entendres. Just think — half the families in Britain laughed as he chatted about ‘my friend Everard’ on teatime Saturday telly, and practically no one saw anything suggestive in the name.

Noele Gordon ( Helena Bonham Carter ) raised two fingers to the bullying producers who were sacking her from Crossroads, at the climax of the second episode of Nolly (ITV1)

Bonham Carter perfectly captures her imperial campness, the mixture of hauteur and vulnerability that defeated any man who tried to order her about

Bonham Carter perfectly captures her imperial campness, the mixture of hauteur and vulnerability that defeated any man who tried to order her about

Noele bestowed smiles upon her subjects (a group of housewives) before wittily humiliating a little man in a grubby mac who dared to dismiss soap operas as ¿a load of women¿s rubbish¿

Noele bestowed smiles upon her subjects (a group of housewives) before wittily humiliating a little man in a grubby mac who dared to dismiss soap operas as ‘a load of women’s rubbish’

Noele was almost as widely recognised as the Queen in her heyday, with her combination of regal grandeur and everyday charm earning her millions of fans

Noele was almost as widely recognised as the Queen in her heyday, with her combination of regal grandeur and everyday charm earning her millions of fans

The script by Russell T. Davies stays close to the biographical facts, touching on Noele’s 1940s triumph on the West End in Brigadoon and her transformation into TV executive and serious presenter 15 years later, when she became the first woman to interview a Prime Minister on screen.

If she hadn’t made so many enemies among the men in suits, her career might have enjoyed a final surge after Crossroads, perhaps as a regular on the newly launched breakfast shows. But as this drama makes clear, if she’d been afraid of making enemies, she wouldn’t have had a career in the first place.

Davies is also having fun with the period details and telly history. We learned a few insider tricks, such as ways to film a blazing inferno on the cheap, and how the cast held those long, pensive poses before the cut to an ad break.

He even had Larry hark back to a favourite advert for Playtex, with the slogan, ‘My girdle is killing me.’

Play School presenter Johnny Ball, Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz and Allo Allo’s Vicki Michelle were all harking back, as they popped round for a cheese fondue and a glass of Cinzano in The 1970s Dinner Party (Ch5).

The highlight of Dinner Party was a pineapple, sliced open and decorated with long pink prawns that looked horribly like fingers clawing their way out of the fruit

The highlight of Dinner Party was a pineapple, sliced open and decorated with long pink prawns that looked horribly like fingers clawing their way out of the fruit

Recreating the days when vino and nibbles with the neighbours was the height of sophistication, this was low-budget levity, though the props department did splash out on a hostess trolley.

Poor Johnny looked a bit left out as the girls swapped photos and discussed hairdos. Still, he was happy to tuck into the cheese-and-pineapple hedgehog. In the kitchen, chef Rustie Lee was shrieking with laughter, and layering slices of cucumber on a salmon before decorating its eyes and mouth with stuffed olives. How cosmopolitan.

The highlight was a pineapple, sliced open and decorated with long pink prawns that looked horribly like fingers clawing their way out of the fruit.

Coincidentally, in the second part of Murder Is Easy over on BBC1, the lord of the manor was also hosting a dinner party, where the centrepiece was a pineapple festooned with prawns. That’s a taste of nostalgia we can all do without.

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