If Noughts + Crosses had been screened 30 years ago, it would’ve been sensational


BBC1’S lavish new race-reversal drama began with the Mark III version of EastEnders’ Ben Mitchell being clobbered on the head by a policeman.

An hour later? A lot of us probably knew how he felt.

Noughts and Crosses, starring Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan, just doesn’t work well as a drama, writes Ally Ross

The head-throbbing sensation that comes with watching Noughts + Crosses, a six-part drama/lecture, based on Malorie Blackman’s novels, which reminded me of The Two Ronnies’ old Worm That Turned sketch that was set in the feminist England of 2012, run by women wearing leather hot pants and no one would describe as their finest hour.

The one crucial difference was, however, the Two Ronnies were only joking.

BBC1’s rarely been more serious about a drama than Noughts + Crosses, which began with the explanation: “Over 700 years ago the Aprican empire invaded Europe, colonised the continent and reached as far as Albion. It’s been under Aprican rule ever since.”

Immediate consequences seem to be a dramatic improvement in the weather, everyone in London is now dressed like Graham Norton and there’s a ban on black people and white people holding hands on buses.

Love can breach the racial divide, though. Callum, a white nought, played by Jack Rowan, has fallen for Masali Baduza’s Sephy, the black daughter of the Home Secretary.

This all plays well, obviously, to the self-loathing Empire guilt of the BBC and a lot of middle-class newspapers, who’ve described it as “timely”, “vital” and even claimed: “Noughts + Crosses’ world is our world.”


I don’t know what part of Britain they live in where black and white people are banned from holding hands on buses but, lets set aside the show’s political agenda for a moment.

The thing about Noughts + Crosses is that, for both technical and artistic reasons, it doesn’t work particularly well as a drama.

The story is, of course, as solid as the day William Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet, but the visual problems start with the fact that, because it was filmed in Cape Town, there appears to be a dirty great mountain hovering above what I think is meant to be Tilbury.

The obvious climate issue also means poor Helen Baxendale, who plays Callum’s servant mum Maggie, is left with the gear change when she suddenly has to hold up her boss’s dress and say: “Beautiful isn’t it . . . and so is the weather.”

“Yes, finally some sunshine, You might even catch some colour.”

Ker-unch. I’m also not buying the central relationship between Sephy and Callum, which is marked by a distinct lack of sexual chemistry, or the idea he qualified for the elite military school after one weekend on an assault course.


The real issue you cannot ignore, however, is the political baggage. If Noughts + Crosses had been screened 30 or even 20 years ago, it would’ve been sensational.

In 2020, though, TV is overwhelmed by shows and voices telling us everything is racist and sexist, so it just felt and looked like the slowest-moving episode of Doctor Who ever.

I find it particularly galling that a lot of those siren voices belong to journalists who I know will be out of a job the day they stop pretending modern-day Britain is really no different from Third Reich Germany in 1933.

It shouldn’t blind us to our own country’s faults, though. I can, for instance, think of a very prominent British institution that’s had nothing but white, male Director Generals since it was created in 1927.

The BBC, though, has always been better at pointing the finger at others rather than itself.

So until such time as TV realises less is more, I fully expect Noughts + Crosses to be given awards, acclaim and further series, while a great chunk of television’s weary audience shrugs: “Yeah, everything is racist. We know.”

E4 Clinic is fairy strange

THE heart now sinks every time the lift doors open at The Sex Clinic, on E4, and out pops another human horror story like “fabulous fairy” Hugo.

His description, not mine. And based on what? I’ve absolutely no idea.

The Sex Clinic’s latest human horror story is ‘fabulous fairy’ Hugo

But apparently Hugo can have anything up to “three or four men a day”, while he describes his sex life as “very fast-forward”.

So I took the hint and skipped through his bits at x30 speed.

The trouble with The Sex Clinic, though, is there’s no light at the end of the tunnel – just more patients like free-wheeling Esther, from Wigan, who shocked me to the core by announcing: “I do not want to jump from d**k to d**k like Tarzan.”

’Cos I’d no idea Tarzan was even gay.

Although it’s Jane I actually feel sorry for, obviously.

Great TV lies and delusions of the week

GOOD Morning Britain “megafauna” Piers Morgan: “A lot of people say I look like a young Roger Moore.”

BBC1 continuity: “Now you’re in for a treat. Miriam Margolyes on The One Show.”

The Sex Clinic, Esther: “I’d say my sex life is very spontaneous.”

Lonely, desolate, unfulfilled, messy, abandoned, solitary, forlorn, a cry for help and all those other things Vanessa Feltz once scrawled on a Celebrity Big Brother table.

  • Sandbanks Summer, week three and it’s Nick Knowles v Rita Simons at beach polo. Harry Redknapp: “We’re going to have a penalty shootout. The loser has to clear up the horse s***.” Shovels ready, ITV.

Tyson’s tip for success

WORLD heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury could quite easily have become the most intimidating oaf on the planet.

The fact he didn’t and is a surprisingly endearing figure owes something to his continued attachment to home town Morecambe, in Lancashire, and its rubbish disposal unit, which, Tyson explained last Thursday, he faithfully visits “twice a week”, while also taking the car for a mini-valet on a Monday and: “Shaving me head.”

Tyson Fury, pictured with his wife Paris, has told how he visits his home town’s rubbish disposal unit ‘twice a week’

It’s a devotion dwarfed only by Tyson’s love for his five children, three of whom are called Prince, and heroic wife, Paris, who endures his mood swings and singing with a resolve that would put a few of his opponents to shame.

All of which made him the perfect subject for ITV’s fly-on-the-wall documentary Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King, a three-part dream of a series which came to a thrilling and touching conclusion last Thursday, with footage of his win over Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas.

Victory was followed by a slightly baffling chorus of American Pie before Tyson grabbed the first available phone to speak to his terrifying dad, John, who’d been forced to watch the fight back in England, for GBH-related reasons.

Only one question seemed to matter by that stage. “Did I look good on the telly, Dad?” Outstanding, Tyson, son. Absolutely outstanding.


Lookalikes of the week

THIS week’s winner is Jar Jar Binks and Ferne McCann.

Sent in by Richard McManus

TV Gold

TYSON Fury: The Gypsy King on ITV.

BBC2’s wonderful Race Across The World reminding us of the sweaty, bad tempered, louder and slower Brits abroad we’ve all been.

ITV’s Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King takes the TV Gold cake this time round

The excellent BBC News health correspondent Fergus Walsh keeping his coronavirus head while rivals go into full Corporal Jones mode.

And brilliant Celebs Go Dating narrator Rob Beckett coming to terms with the hopelessness of his own position while Dean Gaffney con-templated life, the universe and everything: “We’re so insignificant?

“I could’ve f***ing told you that. I’m sat here in a box watching Dean Gaffney eat a f***ing curry. And I’m barely over watching Lee Ryan from Blue eat a burrito.”


Random TV irritations

ANOTHER episode of ITV’s Sandbanks Summer ending with Harry Redknapp collecting dog turds.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon “dazzling” women with yet more of their hit-and-miss impressions on The Trip To Greece.

Dancing On Ice judges deserving the collective bullet for awarding absolutely everything a “TEN!” at the final.

A BBC2 continuity announcer inviting me to “celebrate International Women’s Day” by listening to a Gemma Collins podcast.

And E4’s Sex Clinic claiming “Nothing is off limits”, yet failing to deliver the five words every single one of its visitors needs to hear: “Go away and grow up.”