SARAH VINE’s My TV WEEK: I shouldn’t admire these rogues, but… they blew me away!




Based on the brilliant 2016 book by Ben Macintyre charting the true-life origins of the SAS, this new series from the writer of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight, blew me away. 

Quite literally. In one scene David Stirling (played by Connor Swindells, near right) – who together with Paddy Mayne and Jock Lewes planted the seeds of the SAS – clears a room in a bar by throwing a hand grenade onto a billiard table. 

In the show it’s not actually live, but it does the job nonetheless. In real life, the story goes, it was – but the producers decided that was too much for today’s sensitive modern audiences to stomach. 

Sarah Vine is enjoying SAS Rouge Heroes, which is based on the 2016 book by Ben Macintyre. The characters include David Stirling (CONNOR SWINDELLS), Paddy Mayne (JACK O’CONNELL), Jock Lewes (ALFIE ALLEN)

That scene pretty much sets the tone for the whole six-part series – and for the characters. Stirling, Mayne (Jack O’Connell) and Lewes (Alfie Allen) were very different men who all shared one trait: they appeared to be totally unhinged. 

Whether as a result of the war they were fighting – against not just the Italian army, in the deserts of North Africa, but also the ineptitude of their military commanders – or for some other deep psychological reason, they seem to have been driven by an almost pathological appetite for destruction, both of others and themselves. 

It was that talent for subversion and total disregard for the rules that led to the creation of the SAS – an organisation that still, to this day, answers to nobody but itself. 

The series creator, Knight, has admitted comparisons with Peaky Blinders – and this show certainly has that same irresistible aesthetic. The violence is full-throated and the air crackles with menace. 

Everyone is a terrible show-off and looks impossibly glamorous all the time. There is much meaningful consumption of alcohol and tobacco. 

Sarah Vine (pictured) says the story lifts us out of our self-imposed cultural straightjackets and take us to a place where people say things like, ‘When we are among the enemy your mother is not watching’

Chiefly, though, there is that unashamed appreciation of a certain type of toxic masculinity we’re supposed to abhor in these so-called enlightened times – but which secretly we admire, probably because at the end of the day it’s what saves us from psychopaths like Hitler or, one might argue, Putin. 

That’s a big part of the appeal of shows like Peaky Blinders – and of stories like these. They are transgressive in a way that no one is supposed to be these days. 

They lift us out of our self-imposed cultural straitjackets and take us to a place where people say things like, ‘When we are among the enemy your mother is not watching,’ and ‘In war we are allowed to become the beasts that we are.’ 

Where no one cares about tomorrow because there may well not be one, and where there are no health warnings or safety inspections. 

Where danger is not something to be avoided at all costs, but an inevitability you might as well embrace with panache. And a well-cut suit.

In that respect Stirling and his men are classic examples of the genre. Incapable of functioning in the world of ordinary mortals, unsuited to civilian life, really not the sort of people you’d want round for tea. 

But in the field of human conflict, absolute heroes.





Alexander Armstrong approaches South Korea in his new series. He is captured busting some moves with an aspiring K-pop girlband called STAYC (pictured)

There is something of the officer class to Alexander Armstrong, an old-fashioned sense of correctness I love about him. Quite unusual in the world of telly, where everyone’s just a bit too cool for school. 

Whoever came up with the idea of sending him to South Korea, home of K-pop and Squid Game, was therefore a bit of genius, as he approaches the task with a polite consternation which is both charming and entertaining. 

Like most people over the age of 25, I don’t really know (or care) all that much about South Korean culture (apart from Ed Balls dancing to Gangnam Style on Strictly in 2016, God love him). But since my son tells me it is ‘literally everything, Mum’, I’m willing to concede that I am wrong on this one. 

That’s why Armstrong is the perfect guide. He approaches this weird and wonderful world from the perspective of a total novice, taking the viewer on a fascinating journey into the unknown. 

A nd he’s so jovial and generally affable you can’t help wanting to tag along.

Here he is eating noodles with a YouTube ‘mukbang’ star, a slip of a girl whose job it is to eat vast quantities of food on camera; here he is busting some moves with an aspiring K-pop girlband called STAYC (all the girls applaud and giggle suitably enthusiastically), even dressing up like a K-pop star and recording his own single (tip: men over 25 should never wear mesh). 

If I had one criticism it’s that he never quite gets to the ‘why’ of so much about South Korean culture – why is it, for example, that videos of young women eating live octopus are so popular? And what about the darker side of the Korean plastic surgery industry? 

He never really gets beneath the surface of any of it, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. Then again, what else do you expect: he’s Alexander Armstrong, and therefore far too polite to ask. 

  • If you fancy a bit of a fright (and after all, it is the season), I can heartily recommend Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet Of Curiosities, currently streaming on Netflix. There are eight short films, each from a different director, chosen and curated by del Toro. The atmosphere is more 19th-century horror than 21st-century slasher – think HP Lovecraft or Henry Kuttner – and the result is chillingly elegant. 


Dick and Angel Strawbridge (pictured) are starring in the final series of their hit show Escape To The Chateau 

Cynics will say that Escape To The Chateau (Sunday, Channel 4) is as threadbare as the old tapestries that once adorned the Chateau de la Motte Husson, but I don’t care: I’ve enjoyed it since the very first series, back in 2016. 

We all dream of escaping the rat race, but very few have the courage to do so, and even fewer in the style of Dick and Angel Strawbridge. 

So what if it’s a bit staged, so what if they’re not quite the bohemians they purport to be: theirs is the ultimate home makeover show. 

This is the last series (probably wise given the ages of their children), and I for one will miss them. 

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