Mary Cook’s delightful malapropisms while she watched TV will be missed by many | Rebecca Nicholson

The Gogglebox star was a joy to behold as she engaged in her unique way with the week’s programmes

Occasionally, it happens with a Jed Mercurio drama, sometimes with an ill-advised interview inexplicably offered up by a member of the royal family, but television’s ability to conjure up a must-see moment has been waning for years, fragmented into endless options by on-demand and smartphones.

Yet in my family, Gogglebox is essential viewing. When it’s in season, there is almost always a post-match discussion, a dissection of the highlights, who was funny, what they loved and that debate about whether the celebrity version is a meagre substitute for watching normal people having a chat and a laugh about what’s happened in the world that week.

So there is a particular kind of sadness when a cast member dies. Andrew Michael, the dad of who we call the Brighton lot, died last week at just 61. Mary Cook died last weekend at 92. Both felt just a little like family, in that odd way that strangers with familiar faces can feel and there’s a particular pang when you hear that they’ve gone.

Mary, who lived in a retirement village in Bristol with her friend Marina Wingrove, could be relied upon to dish out the funniest, and sometimes smuttiest, lines of any given week. Together, they were hilarious, and it is hard to overstate their comedy genius. I loved Mary wisely observing: “They’ve all had an organism.” “Orgasm, yeah,” replied Marina, sweetly.

Another highlight was a discussion about macho men, back in 2018. “Too much teresterone,” Mary said, knowingly, as Marina scoffed. “Well you’re nearly there,” she said, with a chuckle, before correcting her: “Testerone.” “That’s what I said!” Mary protested. I howled with laughter then. Even now, it still makes me smile.

Gogglebox should never have worked. It remains a point of wonder that a television show about people watching television is one of the most popular shows on British television. But it is only a little bit about the series and the films they watch. It is about people, from cities, from towns, from the countryside; young, old and middle-aged; of different races, incomes and opinions. I know it’s sentimental, but when I watch it, this divided country can feel less torn. Besides, you cannot write better comedy than a baffled Mary finally understanding what Marina meant by “retail therapy”. “Oh, shopping!” she said. “I thought you meant it was something medical.” Thank you, Mary, for the many, many laughs.

Ryan Tedder: high time for some new kids on the block

Ryan Tedder
Ryan Tedder: ‘You’re competing with every song that has ever come out.’ Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

We should have seen it coming, I suppose, but one of the biggest consequences of the streaming age is that it has frozen certain sections of music in time. It’s a big block of time, sure – for guitar music, for example, it’s from the Beatles through to mid-to-late 00s indie – but anything that came after that period and hopes to cut through faces an increasingly difficult task.

In an interview with the BBC, the musician and songwriter Ryan Tedder – name a hit and he probably wrote it – attempted to explain it, arguing that new performers were not just up against other new or current acts, but 70 years’ worth of history. “It’s all brand new, right now,” he said. “So you’re competing with every song that has ever come out.” It’s why the album charts are stuffed with bands who made it big in the 70s, 80s and 90s; it is hard, after all, to top Queen’s Greatest Hits I and II.

The same goes for the live circuit. Festivals have come back tentatively, making adjustments for it being much harder for international acts to travel, but Theo Ellis from Wolf Alice says that, rather than using this as an opportunity to bump newer British acts up the bill, bookers will settle for older acts they know sell tickets. “I think there might still be a climate of paying heritage acts to come back and play Reading for the 16th time,” he told the BBC.

To say it is tough for new artists doesn’t come close, but I can only hope this is cyclical and we start to tire of the same old, same old again and crave something brand new.

Bella Hadid: what she did on her holidays

Bella Hadid
Bella Hadid: no bucket and spade for her this year. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP

The supermodel Bella Hadid, her brother, Anwar, and the pop star Dua Lipa, his girlfriend, made headlines last week for having a British holiday. They frolicked around Soho Farmhouse, the private members’ club in the Cotswolds – I don’t know why only famous people and goats get to “frolic”, but those are the rules, I’m afraid – then stayed at the fancy Chiltern Firehouse hotel, went out for fish and chips and then for a walk on Hampstead Heath in north London. The fact that I have read about this extensively does not make me proud of myself, but in this year of the great staycation, I wanted to know if they were doing a proper British holiday.

Missing from their holiday snaps are shots of: them sitting in the car with a sweaty cheese sandwich and a packet of grab-bag Hula Hoops, waiting for the heavens to close; a ripped OS map from 1987 that they are relying on to get them from one blocked-off farm to another; a museum, about which they have just had a disproportionately furious row; and wise locals telling them not to even think about opening those seaside fish and chips because the gulls will have their eye out. Or maybe they just didn’t post those bits.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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