TONY ON TV: Surprise, surprise it was better with Cilla

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TV seems a safe haven for buffoons and the vocally challenged, especially at the weekends.

On BBC4 there’s a rest in store for, and from, Sgt Caterella whose bumbling antics at the police station belie the help he gives Sicilian crimebuster ‘Inspector Montalbano,’ which closes up shop this Saturday after 12 weeks. Rumour has it that a new series is being filmed, so it’s roll on 2013 for some more Mediterrean murder and mayhem.

However, there’s no such respite for fans of ‘The X Factor’ (ITV1), which is providing a long-stay home for Rylan Clark, who, I’m sure, has been kept on against all the odds to boost flagging viewing figures.

This talent search juggernaut is due to hit the buffers just in time for viewers to take a break to get in some Christmas shopping, staying the course just a little longer than the currently resurrected offering of ‘Surprise, Surprise’ (ITV1), which reminded me just how much better it was 15 years ago when Cilla Black brought her Scouse screech to our screens.

Back on track again from tomorrow is former politician and train buff Michael Portillo who, after criss-crossing the UK with his popular excursions of bygone days, now sets his sights on European travel in ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’ (BBC2).

Armed with his well-thumbed travelling companion, George Bradshaw’s 1913 railway guide, for the five-week travelogue, he leaves London heading for the coast and France as he heads down the Cote d’Azur for a spot of gambling in Monte Carlo.

Nearer to home and gambling for real, and also for charity, is the theme of a live version of ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? I’m a Celebrity’ special on Friday on ITV1 as Vic Reeves and Nancy Sorrell go into quiz mode opposite former Kings of the Jungle Phil Tufnell and Joe Pasquale.

And if that’s not scary enough, there’s big-name political drama starting on Channel 4 tonight in ‘Secret State’ in which the Deputy Prime Minister (Gabriel Bryne in top form) find undercover forces out to thwart him when he tries to get justice for families of victims involved in an explosion while working for a powerful American petrochemical company. This four-part series, adapated from Chris Mullins’ novel, also stars Gina McKee as a journalist who suspects a cover-up; Charles Dance as a Chief Whip, and Sylvestra le Touzel as an ambitious Foreign Secretary.


Pound Shop Wars -- Wednesday, BBC1. Behind-the-scenes look at how two of the low-price chains, 99p Stores and Poundworld, are delivering for bargain-hungry shoppers a time when every penny counts,

The Inbetweeners Movie -- Thursday, Channel 4. Double treat for fans with the TV premiere of the money-making big-screen version of E4’s edgy comedy series ahead of an hour-long showcase of ‘Top Ten Moments’ from the TV sitcom.

Have I Got News For You -- Friday, BBC1. ‘Homeland’ star Damian Lewis is back in the hot seat for the fifth time as he presides over more topical titbits as the show continues its celebration of 10 years of guest hosts.