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Friday Night Dinner: Why food fights and mayhem have become a TV treat

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Friday Night DinnerImage copyright
Channel 4

At a time when many of us are having to stay away from our family, it’s business as usual round at the Goodmans – in other words, collective chaos.

If you’re unfamiliar with this foursome, they’re the fictional stars of Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner – an anarchic sitcom where the degree of farce borders on the insane.

As the title suggests, the set-up is in theory benign, cosy even. A secular Jewish household – mum, dad and their two grown-up sons – come together each week in the family home to mark the start of the Sabbath.

Soup, chicken and “crimble” crumble are always on the menu and yet the Goodmans never get to eat.

Mayhem ensues within minutes of the brothers stepping through the front door. It starts with their compulsive pranking of each other. But as the evening goes on, a series of random surreal events leads to family meltdown – and dinner ruined.

The show, which starts its sixth series this week, is the creation of Robert Popper, whose previous credits include Peep Show, South Park and The Inbetweeners.

Popper, who is Jewish, had his Eureka! moment for a comedy which played with the oddities of family dynamics, particularly those in a Jewish family, while musing in the bath.

“I decided I wanted to do a show about a family and the feeling you get that when you go home you revert to being kids again,” he says.

“I used to go home on Friday evening, which is like the Sunday lunch equivalent, and my brother and I became like children again.

“And, whenever I’d seen Jewish comedy or scenes, they seemed overdone or overly emotional, with a violin playing and soft focus on the candles so I wanted to do something where those elements were just a backdrop.

“But the intensity of the Goodmans and how they are very argumentative and everyone knows everyone’s business – that’s all very recognisably Jewish.”

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Channel 4

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Adam and Jonny are (rarely) on their best behaviour.

Those Goodmans are Tamsin Greig, as mum Jackie, Paul Ritter is dad Martin, elder son Adam is Simon Bird with Jack Rosenthal as his sibling Jonny.

Sitting sardine-like on a sofa, they seem relaxed and in good spirits – unlike their characters in the comedy, which has for nine years followed its own particular formula.

Mum’s desperately trying to keep control; characteristically shirtless dad – the family oddity – has a new weird obsession; strange neighbour Jim unfailingly turns up at the door with his dog and Jonny’s gags always get the better of Adam.

As Bird and Rosenthal jostle somewhat on the sofa you might assume they had adopted their own pattern of brotherly rivalry in real life.

“Well, he’s just tipped a box of popcorn on my head. But I’ve already got three siblings so I’m really over them and don’t need another,” says Bird.

“Between takes we do try to chuck grapes into each other’s mouths. The action and the off-camera bits are really quite similar,” adds Rosenthal.

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Channel 4

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Martin and Jackie are the regular hosts of the weekly Goodman family meal.

Though the essential ingredients of the show haven’t altered, the extremes to which the farce goes has been ramped up over the years.

The first episode in the new series doesn’t disappoint in this regard, featuring as it does fire and copious excrement.

Popper admits his enjoyment at “pushing things to the limit and making each Friday awful for the family”, which habitually involves swearing – and violence.

“Jackie is considerably more violent in this series and there’s a greater intensity,” says Greig.

“It’s not right and it’s not good but Robert said, ‘it’s just funny’.”

She recalls hitting Ritter with a stick, he adds “and fist punch”, while Rosenthal displays a bruise and recounts how Bird, who is “a lot stronger than he looks” once caused the ligaments “to pop out in my leg – which was apparently very harrowing for everyone else”.

And a lot of food gets thrown leading to Jackie (and Greig) despairing over the carpet.

“I worry about the waste because the carpet gets trashed,” she says. “But I also find food moving in an inappropriate way very funny.”

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Channel 4

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The show first aired in 2011 and is now into its sixth series.

TV critics seem to appreciate the gags. Mark Lawson in the Guardian said: “The pleasure… is in Popper’s expert escalation of the desperation and social embarrassment that are the engines of farce. The plots become twisted chains of deceit, miscomprehension and blackmail.”

While Veroncia Lee from the Arts Desk, called the show a “deliciously daft comedy,” adding: “There’s nothing groundbreaking or edgy about Friday Night Dinner, but like a favourite meal it always satisfies, even if it does repeat.”

For all the silliness, the show is not always an easy ride for the actors, says Greig.

“We’re stuck in this house and it feels like a Jewish Big Brother because you can’t leave and you can’t go outside until it’s dark so as not to disturb the neighbours.

“It’s filmed in winter so if you’re outside and the Beast from the East comes, you think: ‘I really hope someone is finding this funny’ – the experience is often not.”

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Channel 4

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Jim Bell, the Goodmans’ bizarre neighbour – played by Mark Heap – pays them a visit.

And for guest characters – which this series includes Miranda actress Sally Phillips – it’s also “quite stressful,” she adds, especially as they don’t know the territorial protocol over the Green Room’s seating.

“If someone is on my sofa, I have to pretend to be OK with it but I’m not a very good actor,” adds Bird.

Sadly the regular visiting character of Jackie’s kindly mum will no longer be in the show following the death of the “brilliant” and “genius” (Greig’s assessment) actress Frances Cuka.

  • Friday Night Dinner star Frances Cuka dies aged 83

Popper says it would “be a bit crass” to have a funeral in the show but an onscreen tribute will go up as the final episode ends.

Another thing Popper doesn’t feel the show should address is anti-Semitic sentiment, which has been increasingly debated in the UK due to accusations that it’s a problem within the Labour party.

“My intention was never to bring any Jewish issues into the show, I wanted it to be silly and funny,” he says. “But I did touch on it in the last series (when Jim’s girlfriend made an anti-Semitic comment) because I thought I might as well do it once.”

The lack of political comment is among the attractions of the show, which, says Popper, has an increasingly younger audience.

And despite the name calling and often gross scenarios, it’s fast become a family watch .

It’s this “that was appealing when we started all those years ago,” says Rosenthal.

Greig adds: “What’s captured the imagination is the notion of coming home and that feeling that there is always a place to go. That’s interesting to watch and experience.”

Friday Night Dinner can be seen on Channel 4 at 22:00 GMT from Friday 27 March.

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Coronavirus: Ofcom ‘assesses’ David Icke TV interview

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David Icke on London Live

The UK’s media watchdog is looking into a TV network’s broadcast of an interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke about coronavirus.

Ofcom said it was “assessing this programme as a priority”, following London Live’s screening of the programme on Wednesday evening.

It follows YouTube’s introduction of stricter misinformation rules after a later interview with Mr Icke by the same team was streamed on its platform.

The government has expressed concern.

‘Inaccurate claims’

“Clearly that station is regulated by Ofcom. And I would be expecting Ofcom to take appropriate action,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Clearly they are independent but I will be in touch with them to understand what action they are taking in respect to that.”

A tweet by London Live to promote the programme – produced by an independent company that also offers training services – prompted a backlash ahead of the broadcast.

But Ofcom is able to intervene only after a programme has been broadcast.

And it has now received 19 complaints about the programme from the public.

Last week, the watchdog sanctioned a community radio network for having broadcast a discussion that “contained potentially harmful views about coronavirus”.

“During the current pandemic, it’s important that potentially misleading information about the coronavirus is not broadcast on radio or TV,” Ofcom said at the time.

“This includes inaccurate claims about potential causes, symptoms, and treatments for the virus.”

Image caption

London Live screened a warning notice several times during the programme

On Tuesday, YouTube deleted copies of a later interview with Mr Icke – embedded into the production company’s site and hosted on YouTube’s platform – and announced it would wipe any other videos that also falsely linked Covid-19 to 5G mobile networks.

The production company, however, has since reuploaded this interview to another US-based service – Vimeo – to allow it to continue to be seen.

Mr Icke does not mention 5G by name in the interview broadcast by London Live, although at one point he does refer to an “electro-magnetic technologically generated soup of radiation toxicity”, which he claims has damaged old people’s immune systems. Scientists have previously rubbished suggestions mobile networks cause such harm.

London Live is owned by the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, who also owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.

It screened a notice during advert breaks, saying the views expressed in the programme were “not necessarily those” of the network and displayed the address of the government’s Covid-19 website.

BBC News has asked the network for comment.



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Paul Lambert: Ex-BBC producer who was ‘fixture of politics’ dies

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Paul Lambert

A former BBC producer described as a central character at Westminster and master of interviewing politicians on the street has died aged 61.

Paul Lambert, affectionately known as “Gobby”, was often heard on TV shouting questions at ministers.

He left the BBC in 2014 to become communications director of UKIP.

His daughter Danni said on Facebook the family were “devastated”. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg described Mr Lambert as a “fixture of politics”.

Writing on Twitter, she added he was a “friend of everyone for so long – such sad, sad news”.

‘Master of the doorstep’

Based on Downing Street, Mr Lambert’s voice was heard on countless news reports putting ministers on the spot as they went about their business.

The nickname “Gobby” was a reference to Mr Lambert’s booming voice, which he used to project awkward questions towards politicians as they entered cars or walked down the street, known in broadcasting as a “doorstep”.

“The point really is to fill in the pieces of the TV bulletin piece that you haven’t got pictures to fill in. You know someone isn’t going to say anything, you just need something to happen,” Mr Lambert explained in 2013.

Others paying tribute on Twitter included political journalist Michael Crick, who said Mr Lambert was a “master of the political doorstep”.

Trade Minister Conor Burns said: “I remember the first time he shouted questions at me as I walked into Parliament. Went inside with a feeling I’d properly arrived.”

Former leader of UKIP Nigel Farage said Mr Lambert was a “unique man and great fun to work with”.

Craig Oliver, a former editor of flagship BBC News bulletins and ex-director of communications at No 10, said: “The start of a thousand TV news reports was Gobby shouting, ‘Are you going to resign?'”

Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, said Mr Lambert was a “gent of the old school” who had “the best nose for a story”, while Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge described him as a “legend”.

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Media captionNewsnight compiled clips of Mr Lambert’s work when he left the BBC in 2014

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said Mr Lambert “always went the extra mile and asked the right question”, and BBC news presenter Reeta Chakrabarti said he was “such a central character in our Westminster newsroom for years… and a thoroughly nice man”.

Mr Lambert – who started his working career as an electrician – left the BBC ahead of the 2015 general election to lead communications for the UK Independence Party.



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Disney Plus racks up 50m subscribers in five months

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Ming-Na Wen arrives for the premiere of Disney+'s The MandalorianImage copyright
Albert L. Ortega

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The Mandalorian featuring Ming-Na Wen is a Disney+ offering

Disney’s new video streaming service has hit more than 50 million subscribers since its launch five months ago.

When Disney Plus last announced viewing figures in February it had reached 26.5 million subscribers.

Since then, this has almost doubled as more people are online and stuck at home due to virus clampdowns.

Disney Plus, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime, rolled out to the UK and other parts of Europe last month.

All three streaming platforms are enjoying a huge boost in viewing figures as cinemas remain closed and people are forced to stay indoors.

Disney Plus originally set a target of 60 million to 90 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024, when it was first launched in the US in November.

“We’re truly humbled that Disney Plus is resonating with millions around the globe,” said Kevin Mayer, a Disney spokesman.

Its subscription figures were given a boost by its audience in India, where Disney Plus was launched last week. Disney reported eight million new subscribers in India.

After the announcement on Wednesday evening, shares in Disney jumped 7% on Wall Street. The entertainment group has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, having to close its theme parks across the globe.

It has also had to stop production on new content and delay releases for potential blockbusters like Mulan and Black Widow.

Disney Plus is still behind both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in terms of global subscriptions. Netflix added almost nine million net global subscribers during the fourth quarter of 2019. At the end of last year, it had over 167 million paying subscribers globally. Amazon now has more than 150 million viewers.

But Disney Plus, which includes films and TV shows from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic, has grown much faster than its rivals.

“What Disney Plus has achieved in five months took Netflix seven years,” said Chris Fenton, a movie industry analyst. “Disney Plus possesses all the ammunition needed to surpass Netflix, and it also has the potential bazooka of China. If any American streaming service can gain access to the 1.4 billion people of China, it’s Disney Plus.”



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