CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: All aboard the good ship Big Lizzie for hijinks on the high seas

The Warship: Tour of Duty

Rating: ****

Call The Midwife 

Rating: ***

Able Rating Ronnie Lambert put his finger on it. He surveyed his shipmates, playing ball games and soaking up the sun on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Med, and identified why the scene looked so old-fashioned. Nobody had a mobile phone.

The fun and larks, a rare moment of leisure time on the £3.5 billion aircraft carrier — known as Big Lizzie — looked like an illustration from a 1950s cruise ship brochure.

Lads were in trunks and girls in bikinis — none of them smooching, of course. Relationships between sailors are permitted, but there’s strictly no touching, we learned on The Warship: Tour Of Duty (BBC2), the first of a six-part series.

Ronnie, a cook from Essex, was one of the featured characters aboard ship, though he quickly took over as the show’s presenter. He couldn’t help himself: even when he was just cracking eggs, he had to be cracking jokes, too.

The fun and larks, a rare moment of leisure time on the £3.5 billion aircraft carrier — known as Big Lizzie — looked like an illustration from a 1950s cruise ship brochure. Lads were in trunks and girls in bikinis — none of them smooching, of course. Relationships between sailors are permitted, but there’s strictly no touching, we learned on The Warship: Tour Of Duty (BBC2), the first of a six-part series

Lieutenant John Hawke, 2nd Officer of the watch 

Showing the camera round his cabin, he pointed to a bunk where a fellow rating was asleep. ‘He sleeps for days,’ the 29-year-old dad-of-two said. ‘He’s half man, half mattress.’

‘Lambert has got that piratical cheekiness that represents the best of the Royal Navy,’ said Commander Chris Ansel. ‘You could find a Navy Lambert in every century and recognise him as Jack’ — a reference to the archetypal British sailor, Jack Tar. Luckily for this Jack Tar, the Navy has abandoned the cat-o-nine-tails, because Ronnie was on a charge. ‘I was a bit AWOL — Absent Without Leave,’ he admitted. ‘When I say ‘a bit’, I mean ‘quite a lot’.’

In fact he was more than six hours late getting back to ship on the day she set sail on a seven-month tour of duty to the South China Seas, leading an armada of seven destroyers and frigates, in 2021. It was the biggest British task force seen since the Falklands War.

Ronnie insisted he was taking the disciplinary proceedings seriously. But he couldn’t help complaining that his apparel for the hearing, the traditional white tropics kit with the Gene Kelly bell bottoms, was ‘the campest uniform you could stick me in’.

And as he sashayed off to meet his fate, he was singing the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive, full falsetto. His punishment was to be denied shore leave in Italy . . . and, when it was over, to be put on ‘drunk duty’, shepherding sozzled stragglers up the gangplank.

All this hilarity masks the seriousness of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s mission. Though the series was filmed before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the threat of Russian aggression was ever-present. A Russian spy ship sidled close enough to impel everyone to lock their phones away — an essential precaution against electronic surveillance.

The unexpected benefit was that, when that day on deck came, everyone could concentrate on getting a tan, without the distraction of social media and video calls. If only Russian spy ships could be deployed to concert halls and theatres. Never again would a performance be ruined by some twit’s phone going off.

The absence of phones was proving a nuisance on Call The Midwife (BBC1), with one anxious dad despatched to the call box on the corner by Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett) (Rright) to dial 999 for an ambulance

They won reprieves, but with the Health Board making noises about the ‘eccentricities’ of Nonnatus House, there’s a growing worry that the midwives might soon pedal off into the East End sunset. Surely not

The absence of phones was proving a nuisance on Call The Midwife (BBC1), with one anxious dad despatched to the call box on the corner by Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett) to dial 999 for an ambulance. Nurse Lucille has already departed this year, and it looked as though we’d lose Nurse Crane, and perhaps Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) too.

They won reprieves, but with the Health Board making noises about the ‘eccentricities’ of Nonnatus House, there’s a growing worry that the midwives might soon pedal off into the East End sunset. Surely not.

BEATBOX OF THE WEEKEND: To my generation of British pop fans, Black American music means jazz, soul and blues. Fight The Power: How Hip-Hop Changed The World (BBC2) argued that rap matters even more. But I’ll never believe any rapper is a match for the sweet voice of Otis or Marvin.

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