TV times: Peter Ross

TV times: Peter Ross

Journalist and author launches our brand spanking new column where he talks about some of his TV favourites

New BBC Scotland six-parter Hidden Lives explores some lesser known aspects of contemporary Scottish society featuring customs, passions and pastimes that receive little outside attention. Journalist and author Peter Ross presents the first two episodes (about a spectacular fire festival in Burghead, and the pomp and pageantry of The Bo'Ness Fair) and here launches our brand spanking new TV column by telling us about Seinfeld, Hancock, Columbo, and a ghost called Pipes.

What is your first memory of watching TV?
I have a very strange recollection, almost a fever dream, of coming downstairs one night as a wee boy and seeing my parents eating duck by candlelight while watching an adaptation of Gawain and the Green Knight starring Murray Head and Nigel Green. I also recall the first time I ever saw anyone use a video recorder: my mum and dad had these Indian friends, and one night, when we went round to their house for dinner, they recorded Doctor Who – Tom Baker era – so we could watch it afterwards. That seemed a miracle. It was also, I believe, the first time I ever ate curry. All of my early TV memories involve food.

Which programme that's no longer on screen would you love to see return?
Columbo is the greatest TV show of all time, and I'm willing to risk a reboot. Mark Ruffalo would be a shoo-in for the lead, of course, but I have an even better idea: Forest Whitaker.

You're a prime-time chat-show host: what's your ideal guest line-up?
One guest, one hour, and the point of the show would be a proper interview – trying to find stuff out – rather than simply entertain. John Freeman's 1960 interview with Tony Hancock springs to mind as the perfect model. In fact, Hancock would be my ideal guest, but, of course, he would be a tricky booking.

Which sitcom have you laughed at the most?
Probably Seinfeld. I think it's a work of genius and repays repeated viewings. The acting is unbelievably good, especially Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Given what she went on to do in Veep, I think she's probably the greatest comic actor of the last 30 years, right?

When was the last time you felt scared while watching TV?
Ghostwatch: BBC1, Hallowe'en, 1992. A couple of years back, I was on Radio Scotland and happened to mention the name Pipes – the malevolent ghost in the show – and in that instant we actually went off air for a couple of minutes. I realise, of course, that it was a fake documentary, but I do think there is some genuine shuddery hoodoo going on with that show.

What's the best TV theme tune ever?
I'm terribly keen on 'Eye Level', the theme to Van der Valk. I once spent a day in The Waterloo, Glasgow's oldest gay bar, writing a story about the place, and there was a guy whose party piece was that you told him your birthday and he told you what was number one when you were born. He identified mine as the Van der Valk theme straight away. I have also interviewed Barry Foster, who played Van der Valk, so I do feel a connection to that piece of music.

Which programme (past or present) would you have loved a part on?
I was actually an extra in Ant and Dec's remake of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? They made the mistake of messing with the unmessable, although the coolest thing about it, for me, was that the director was Bob Spiers who had directed the second series of Fawlty Towers. I wouldn't mind being in the original Likely Lads, just hanging around in the background somewhere, supping a half-pint of mild.

What was the last show you binge-watched?
I don't binge-watch. I prefer my pleasure deferred. In fact, I'm not really into the box-set thing at all. What I enjoy is catching creepy old films on Talking Pictures. The Innocents: now there's a movie. Pamela Franklin played the little girl in that, and I saw her again recently – on Talking Pictures – in The Legend of Hell House, this demented 1973 film with a brilliant Delia Derbyshire soundtrack.

Who is your all-time favourite fictional TV character?
Lieutenant Columbo. He's such a simple character – the car, the cigar, the 'just one more thing' – but Peter Falk's inhabiting of the role, between 1968 and 2003, is extraordinary. The last ever episode, 'Columbo Likes the Nightlife', is a piece of nonsense, a poor finale set in LA clubland, but performance-wise this is Falk's Lear. He is world-weary, a man out of time, deeply serious in his pursuit of evil even with a pink feather boa draped round his famous beige raincoat.

Hidden Lives starts on BBC Scotland, Thursday 17 October, 8.30pm.

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