Subscriber OnlyTV & Radio

Claudia Winkleman could be in your midst right now. Security forces live in fear of the day she goes rogue

Patrick Freyne: On The Piano, she shows why she’s the best light-entertainment presenter. Jon Bon Jovi, on the other hand, is both cheesy and hammy

Claudia Winkleman is the best light-entertainment presenter. She can be sincere and arch at the same time. She asks questions with genuine interest and insight. She appears to actively like the “general public”, an amorphous blob that some in the media see as unsophisticated shmucks distributed across a bar chart and not individuals with hopes and dreams in their own right. (The Irish Times’ ABC1 readership know what I’m talking about, am I right?)

And she has an incredibly distinctive look. If she were to abandon her glossy black fringe, dark eyeliner and monochrome clothing for a curly red mop, blue eyeshadow and primary-coloured dungarees (I have been told that this is her actual preference) she could disappear into the general populace without anyone suspecting a thing.

Look around your bus, office or kitchen table. How well do you know these people? For all you know Winkleman is in your midst right now. Security forces the world over live in fear of the day Winkleman goes rogue. (Solicitor’s note: security forces the world over do not, in fact, “live in fear of the day Winkleman goes rogue”, and we would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Ms Winkleman.)

The Piano (Channel 4, Sunday), which Winkleman presents, was the feelgood hit of 2023. It revolved around the idea of placing a musical instrument in train stations around the UK. Putting a piano in a train station isn’t a workable transport policy, but it’s something, I guess. The Piano is uplifting and optimistic. It taps into the innate musicality and creativity of amateur hobbyists.


Of course, having easy access to a piano doesn’t automatically lead to a happy outcome for all. Sometimes, a man in middle years will take it upon himself to loudly and painstakingly attempt to play Pixies songs during a family gathering. Surprisingly, some scientists believe that this is not as enjoyable for the family as it might be for the middle-aged man. And I’m warning you now, there is no guarantee that he wouldn’t attempt to do something similar in a train station. The mind boggles at what he might do with that power.

Luckily, the pianists on The Piano are carefully selected for both their musical talents and their emotionally compelling stories. (Perhaps their family does not enjoy the sound of them working out Pixies songs.) In the new series the producers have also wisely chosen to stick with the piano and not switch focus to the “cursed” instruments (bagpipes, accordion, fretless bass, tin whistle), although Winkleman briefly jokes that they’ve changed the show’s name to The Harmonica. To quote family members that I have canvassed on the issue: “The piano is bad enough.”

Anyway, the show is helping to raise money to put pianos in train stations across the British nation, which is a good thing. On the downside, it means there’ll be thuggish children hammering away at them, adults badly remembering their music lessons and still more attempting to play interesting adaptations of Pixies songs that go unappreciated at home. On the upside, my favourite piano players are the guys in westerns who continue with their honky-tonking even as a brawl breaks out. This, to be fair, is the best musical model for the average British train station, a place where broken commuters wander the ruins of a once great public-transport system.

In the first series, unbeknown to the melodically gifted key-thumpers, two piano pioneers (pianeers, if you will) were secretly observing and judging them in a nearby railway-station eyrie. This is double-barrelled classical pianist Lang Lang and chamber-pop funster and shoddy concrete-block ingredient Mika. (Solicitor’s note: Mika has nothing to do with the shoddy building material “mica”; we would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Mr Mika.)

In the new series everyone is aware of the musical gurus Winkleman has stashed away, which takes one element of suspense away. But the undeniably feelgood element is still there. A boxer turns out to have a counter-intuitively gentle touch on the keys, a once stateless teenage refugee belts out Nina Simone songs and a nine-year-old who struggles with emotional expression emotes gorgeously from a piano. It’s all beautiful and life-affirming.

And then there’s a dementia sufferer named Duncan, who can still play the beautiful piano music he wrote for his wife, Fran. It’s really deeply moving. The joy of this programme is in the fact that, no matter how hard life gets, all sorts of people have an instinct and ability to create beautiful things. There’s something miraculous about that.

And, also, one of them is the best. This is also part of the show, because, as Jesus once said, “Wherever more than two people are gathered in my name, one of them is the best.”

I have no idea why there needs to be a competitive element to a show like this. Affable Mika and awestruck Lang Lang could still have a role coaching and cheerleading without the bit at the end where they emerge and say something like, “All of you are brilliant. However, some of you are less brilliant than others. (I’m looking at the nine-year-old in particular.)”

I suppose the culture is such that if a television programme explores the beauty and joy that amateurs find in music, it must also make sure to remind viewers that music is a commodity that can be weighed and judged. Yes, my friends, we must toil and slog until death takes us. And then, as Gary Larson once observed, it’s just harps or, if you go to hell, accordions.

For fans of The Piano, the real star of the band Bon Jovi is frizzy-haired, Tony-award-winning keyboard player David Bryan. Sadly, most of Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story (Disney+) is focused on the singer Jon Bon Jovi. (His surname is, coincidentally, also the name of the band.) Gotham Chopra’s series suffers from the ailment that afflicts a lot of recent celebrity documentaries: it’s overly concerned with the perspective and promotional priorities of its subject. It is also very, very long. I think I started watching it slightly before Jon’s birth, in 1962, and I’m still watching it now.

The big-haired New Jersey origin story of the band is good fun, but it’s weighed down with a less interesting focus on Jon Bon Jovi Victor Meldrewing his way into an upcoming tour in his 60s. It also features many of Jon’s reflections on what he has learned. For example: “Don’t not be a visionary.” Look, not enough aphorisms feature a double negative. Don’t Not Be a Visionary could be the title of a Bon Jovi self-help book. It begs to be argued against with triple or even quadruple negatives. “No, Jon, I think you shouldn’t don’t not be a visionary.”

Jon Bon Jovi is ultimately a pleasant chap, but he is filled with thoughts both cheesy and hammy. He is, in a way, Jambon Jovi. David Bryan, on the other hand? Now, there’s a piano-botherer I could listen to in a busy UK train station.