New year TV review: Billy Connolly's gone fishing so maybe we should cancel 2021

Like first-footers at a riotous New Year party of fond, pre-pandemic memory, TV shows kept bumping into each other, repeating themes and borrowing jokes.

"I wanted to be a funny man and I got it" - Billy Connolly in retirement in Florida
"I wanted to be a funny man and I got it" - Billy Connolly in retirement in Florida

“The constant re-arrangement of testicles,” announced Lucy in Not Going Out (BBC1), nominating the irritating habit of husband Lee she most wanted banished in 2021. “How complicated can it be?” she wailed. “There’s a left one and a right one – not a string of fairy lights.”

Then suddenly the subject of Billy Connolly: It’s Been a Pleasure … (STV) was impersonating an Italian waiter re-arranging his like they were pepper pots or balls of mozzarella. Also featured were: the one about the incontinence pants, the one about the knitted swimming trunks – Loony Dookers, try a pair of these for size – and the one about the wildebeest in a dwam.

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There wasn’t room to squeeze in the Wife Joke, aka the Bicycle Joke, squeezing being the operative word, but this was a hilarious tribute, also a bit of a heartbreaker.

Jenna Coleman as the Bikini Killer's moll in The Serpent

Not Going Out wasn’t the only caustic comedy about seven people stuck indoors and squabbling - Two Doors Down (BBC2) decanted to the Highlands with no let-up in the neighbourly narkiness.

The former was also a farewell to Bobby Ball, signing off with bum gags of his own. Another we lost in 2020, Dame Diana Rigg, resisted the temptation to deploy any in her final telly role and a good thing too, Black Narcissus (BBC1) having cast her as the Mother Superior.

But of the two 70-something blokes battling Parkinson’s disease who were thrown together on the box in the last week of the old year, there wasn’t much doubt who had the tougher paper-round – our Billy.

In The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne (BBC2), the Black Sabbath screecher recalled his “shame” growing up in a house with an outside loo, dressing like a “peasant” topped off with the school dunce’s cap.

Gordon (Kieran Hodgson) enrages Cathy (Doon MacKichan) with his impression on her in Two Doors Down

But he hero-worshipped his hard-working father, even after the latter’s refusal to spare him six weeks in jail for robbery by paying the fine – “to teach me a lesson”. Later the old man set Ozzy on the road to rock ‘n’ roll excess, buying him his first amplifier. “I loved my dad,” he said with watery eyes.

By contrast, Connolly’s father was adept at skelping the lad while dancing in the front room.

Billy, sat on his dock in the Florida Keys, recalled how he would be suspended in mid-air by an arm, the punishment coming with the most rhetorical of questions: “Have ye had enough?”

For the future Big Yin, the world’s greatest stand-up comedian, such dark memories were like wasps trapped under a jam jar, to then be picked apart for their humorous content.

From school dunce to heavy metal headbanger - Ozzy Osbourne (left) with the rest of Black Sabbath

Who says he’s the greatest? Oh, only Dustin Hoffman, Sir Paul McCartney and the other superstar fans who queued up to throw down garlands.

“I love him,” said Macca. This was a programme to treasure because Connolly, from the stage at least, has told his last shaggy wildebeest story. “We’ll just have to watch all his old stuff,” added the Beatle.

“I wanted to be a funny man and I got it,” said Connolly, his snowy white mane and beard contrasting with the fierce blue waters where in retirement he fishes.

Comedy, he confirmed, “is good for you, good for the people and a dynamite thing to be able to do”.

An early explosion came when he satirised Jesus. In America that might have prompted the God Squad to burn his old Humblebums albums, but his passage into Stateside consciousness was smoothed by Whoopi Goldberg. “I did two shows with her on my birthday, flying Concorde so I arrived at the same time as I left – a great day in my life,” he says.

Back on the dock he said of Parkinson’s: “It’s got me and it will end me, but that’s okay.” Then, receiving the last of the accolades on a tablet, he seemed set for a bloody good greet.

But typical of the man he turned the ending around. “I’ve changed my mind: I’m coming back!”

Black Narcissus revived the old Deborah Kerr melodrama, Gemma Arterton leading a group of nuns up a Himalayan peak almost as high as her cheekbones.

In 1934, in a former brothel, they were trying to establish a mission. But the local handyman was too handsome, his jodhpurs too tight. I thought his headgear was reminiscent of the hat worn by Dallas’ JR Ewing, which according to Clive James, appeared to have been adorned with stuffed budgerigars, but the sisters were quite smitten with him.

Surprised by a mirror, one nun confessed: “I’ve not seen myself since the day I took my vows.”

David Beckham, first to feature in Celebrity: a 21st Century Story (BBC2), is assuredly on more familiar terms with his cheekbones.

This was a documentary of boggling stats, of OK! offering £1 million for the Posh ’n’ Becks wedding photos, unaware the only previous bid had been £125,000.

Did you know that Paris Hilton made £11 million from her sex-tape? Or that Jordan had written five bestsellers? Best of all was Rebecca Loos, the nanny who claimed she had an affair with Beckham, justifying her pig-pleasuring actions on reality show The Farm: “But that’s how 90 per cent of pork is reproduced in Holland.”

Finally, to Bangkok for The Serpent (BBC1), which might have had you pining for paradise beaches currently out of reach, but not for long.

This is the true story of the Bikini Killer who in the 1970s lured hippy-trail backpackers to their deaths. He’s a sleazy psychopath in flares and big collars, aided by Jenna Coleman as his moll. Slow-moving and not resolving any time soon, with seven parts to come.

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