Channel 4 unveils Autumn 2011 Season

by Lynn Connolly

Channel 4 has unveiled a rich and varied autumn season which includes dramas from Ronan Bennett and Charlie Brooker, comedy from the team behind Comic Strip, a campaigning series from George Clarke and a wide range of ambitious factual shows.

Tackling difficult issues, offering fresh perspectives on the world and stimulating debate are familiar maxims at Channel 4 and are firmly at the heart of the autumn schedule.

Who else would ask viewers to campaign for a fundamental change to housing policy?

The Empty Homes Show (w/t) will shed a light on the scandal at the heart of the British housing crisis: while two million British families currently don’t have adequate housing, a staggering one million homes lie empty across the country. Fired up by this senseless waste, architect and ambassador for Shelter, George Clarke, calls on the British public to help identify empty homes in their communities and lobby the government to change their policy and commit to re using empty homes.

Where else would you get a brave and honest insight into gender transition? Girls will be Boys and Boys will be Girls (w/t) explores the challenges of being ‘trans’ in a world that can be quick to judge, prejudiced and abusive. This four-part series follows the stories of seven people, who are at different stages of their transition, coming together to support each other as they make the ultimate journey to realise their true identities. (See separate release.)

Who else would attempt to mummify a body, specially donated for the purpose, in an attempt to solve a mystery that has baffled scientists for centuries: how were the Ancient Egyptians able to perfectly preserve their pharaohs for millennia? Pioneering scientists hope to unlock this 3000-year-old enigma in Mummify Me.

Drama is at the forefront this autumn. Ronan Bennett’s distinctive new drama serial is a timely, honest and gripping rendition of inner-city urban drug and gang culture. Top Boy looks at the heart of life in a world we think we know but rarely see or understand. This original four-part drama showcases a fresh and dynamic line up of first time actors brought together through extensive talent searches.

Black Mirror is a contemporary British re-working of The Twilight Zone by Charlie Brooker with stories that tap into the collective unease about our modern world. In every home; on every desk; in every palm – a plasma screen; a monitor; a Smartphone – a black mirror of our 21st Century existence. Our grip on reality is shifting. These three stand-alone dramas are sharp, suspenseful, satirical tales with a techno-paranoia bent.

Later in the season, Shane Meadows is set to follow up the explosive award winning This Is England ’86 with This Is England ’88. Haunted by the devastating events which took place 18 months previously, soul mates, Lol and Woody both find themselves in self-imposed exile from each other and the gang. They say Christmas is a time for forgiving and for forgetting, a time of love and laughter and joy ever after, and with echoes of A Christmas Carol, Shane Meadows take us to places we never thought we’d go. This is Christmas, This is England style.

The latest creation from Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show), new eight-part comedy drama Fresh Meat, follows a group of six students about to embark on the most exciting period of their lives so far: university!

Starring a sparkling ensemble cast including Jack Whitehall in his first dramatic role and Joe Thomas (Inbetweeners), Fresh Meat shines a light on a whole gamut of appalling behaviour and terrible errors of judgment familiar to anyone who’s ever experienced one of life’s great rites of passage.

The team behind the inimitable Comic Strip returns this autumn with one of the comedy highlights of the season. Comic Strip: The Hunt for Tony Blair is a 60 minute 1950’s style fugitive film noir pastiche which follows Prime Minister Tony Blair (Stephen Mangan) who is wanted for murder and on the run.

The cast includes Robbie Coltrane as Inspector Hutton, Nigel Planer as Peter Mandelson, Jennifer Saunders as Margaret Thatcher, Harry Enfield as Alistair Campbell, Rik Mayall as Professor Predictor, Morgana Robinson as Carole Caplin, John Sessions as Thatcher’s butler and Ross Noble as an ‘old Labour’ Tramp.

As well as starring in Fresh Meat, stand-up sensation Jack Whitehall is also headlining his own brand-new entertainment series with the working title, Hit the Road Jack. Packing his bags and hitting the road to find the best that Britain has to offer, Jack will be joined along the way by celebrities and comedians.

The Mad Bad Ad Show is a comedy panel show where team captains Micky Flanagan and Mark Watson try to find out if they’ve got what it takes to make it in the world of advertising with the help of an industry insider. As well as undertaking challenges they will be joined by some of Britain’s sharpest comic brains to dissect and lampoon ads from the past, present and overseas.

In addition, Kayvan Novak, star of BAFTA winning Fonejacker and more recently Sirens, returns with a second series of the ground-breaking Facejacker and Rafe Spall returns to Channel 4 for a second series of the hit comedy sitcom Pete Versus Life.

Moving on to an impressive slate of factual programmes, we turn first to science. In a major new five – part science series, Professor Stephen Hawking presents a global exploration of the scientific breakthroughs that are transforming our lives in the 21st century.

Aided by some of the world’s leading scientific figures – including Sir David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Aarathi Prasad, Lord Winston and Maggie Aderin-Pocock – Brave New World reveals how science is striving for humankind’s next leap forward from battling the world’s big killer diseases, breaking down the barriers between man and machine and expanding our understanding of the universe.

The Food Hospital examines the science behind using food as medicine. In experiments conducted with strict scientific rigour, patients suffering from a range of medical conditions and symptoms are prescribed specific diets to find out if their health problems can be alleviated or cured by the food they eat.

Drama documentary The Hero of Station X examines the life and legacy of Alan Turing, one of the most important figures in British scientific history: a mathematical genius, many have argued that his code breaking work at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two years. Yet instead of being celebrated, in 1952 he was convicted of “gross indecency” and chemically castrated. Two years later, Turing killed himself, aged 41.

Digging the Great Escape (w/t), follows a team of engineers, archaeologists, and serving RAF officers with an extraordinarily ambitious plan: to excavate for the first time ever the remains of “Harry”, the tunnel from which 76 allied airmen escaped the supposedly escape proof PoW camp at Stalag Luft III, on the night of 24 March 1944.

This was the Great Escape, immortalised by Hollywood, and internationally famous as an extraordinary story of courage and ingenuity. It took a year to dig the tunnel and for nearly 70 years Harry has remained undisturbed – and with it the final secrets of the remarkable story of the Great Escape.

In Living with the Amish (w/t), the notoriously private Amish community opens its doors to a group of British teenagers in a new six-part series. The teens leave their mobile phones, Facebook accounts and partying behind, as they head to Ohio to see if they can hack six weeks of hard work and simple living.

Having forged a raft of unique and highly successful observational documentaries that get under the skin of contemporary Britain, (The Hotel, One Born Every Minute, 24 Hours in A&E), Channel 4 now turns its unflinching eye to soldiers on the front line, nurses in the NHS and our classrooms.

Confessions of a Nurse, filmed over a year at a major NHS trust, paints an intimate and revealing portrait of nurses in 2011. With unprecedented access to a school, Educating Essex follows a group of final year students and the staff who teach them and reveals what life is really like for pupils and teachers in an English secondary school.

Filmed on and off the battlefield in Afghanistan, Fighting on the Frontline follows the story of a group of servicemen and women fighting the war from three unique perspectives – on foot, in the air and from behind the wheel of armoured vehicles (see separate release).

Plus Cutting Edge returns with a new series of revelatory documentaries including Britain’s Most Extreme Hoarder (w/t). On paper Mr Wallace is a millionaire but despite his wealth he lives in abject poverty with every room stuffed with newspapers and other household items.

He has to crawl over mountains of papers and magazines simply to move from room to room and he has to sleep sitting on piles of junk. Film-maker Christian Trumble gets unique access into his intriguing home, where no one has ever ventured.

Other shows include the inside story on Mark Stone, Britain’s most controversial undercover cop, and a film about one of the worst serial killings in American history – The Craigslist Killings (w/t).

And rest assured some of Channel 4’s big names are back with new series this autumn.

Having made her name overhauling the retail industry and teaching shopkeepers all about exceptional customer service can the doyenne of the high street cut the mustard in her own fashion venture? Mary Queen of Frocks sees Mary Portas stake her professional reputation on designing, launching and most importantly, successfully selling her own fashion range exclusively aimed at what she feels is a gap in the market – high street style that works for women, not girls.

In a brand new series, Kevin McCloud sets out to prove what Britain’s housing industry said couldn’t be done – to build beautiful, contemporary, affordable, sustainable homes and still make money. Increasingly frustrated that so many people in Britain live in poorly designed outdated houses, Kevin’s Grand Design follows this personal, five-year-long project on which Kevin is staking his reputation and his savings, all because of his passionate belief that there is a need for environmentally – friendly housing developments which can also promote a sense of community. We also welcome a brand new series of Grand Designs this season.

Derren Brown returns to Channel 4 this autumn in Derren Brown: The Experiments, a brand new four-part series that see Derren pushing the boundaries in terms of size and scale. Each of the stand-alone episodes takes the form of a giant social experiment, some of which have been inspired by classic psychology tests; others concocted by Derren himself to illustrate how easily our behaviour can be manipulated.

Jamie Oliver travels the length and breadth of the country in search of new ideas and to find out what makes British food great in Jamie’s Britain. He discovers that many of the dishes we think of as British classics aren’t ‘British’ at all, but full of influences from around the world through invasion, exploration, colonisation and immigration. Jamie will also be in the kitchen cooking delicious classic dishes with a twist including Tandoori Roast Chicken and Apple Pepperpot Pudding.

And as if that’s not enough Gok’s Clothes Road Show, Kirstie’s Handmade Britain, River Cottage Veg, Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare, Million Pound Drop, Alan Carr: Chatty Man will all be back with new series.

© Channel 4

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.