Is India ready for Paul Chuckle? The entertainer is one of eight celebrity elders off to spend a month living together in Puducherry and the foothills of the Himalayas to see if they would like to retire there.
It’s like Celebrity Big Brother goes on tour, with the added drama of remembering to take your arthritis medication.
This is the fourth series of The Real Marigold Hotel, inspired by 2011 feel-good comedy movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Previous guests include Miriam Margolyes and Stanley Johnson, who seems to have been on most reality shows by now, especially the ones where you escape your family.
Chuckle is joined by former Bond girl Britt Ekland, Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne (who I didn’t realise was so close to retirement; it turns out he is 71), fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, actor John Altman (Nick Cotton in EastEnders), actress Susie Blake and singer Barbara Dickson.
They’re an entertaining group with lots of anecdotes about their lives. From the moment they meet at Heathrow cliques start to form.
Ekland gives Rhodes a kiss on the cheek every morning, while Altman seems to hang on Bannatyne’s every word, even trying his first yoga class (if he’s after some of Bannatyne’s eternal youth he might have to try a more plastic surgery based approach).
Bannatyne is the group’s de facto therapist and there’s a moving scene where Chuckle talks with him about how hard life is without his brother and comedy partner Barry, who died two years ago.
The other celebrities are open too. Ekland speaks about marrying Peter Sellers after only knowing him for 10 days and living with him when he was depressed, while Blake and Rhodes, both very likeable, discuss coming to terms with ageing.
The outfits are excellent — a smattering of leopard print from Chuckle and a rainbow wardrobe from Blofeld, who looks like a packet of Starburst in his green shorts and orange shirt. Blofeld is a dominant figure and goes on an entertaining outing with Ekland to buy coffee. It could even be seen as a date. Ekland speaks in inspirational slogans; “If you lose curiosity, you are getting old,” is one of her many mottos.
So far the mood is harmonious, apart from a flicker of tension when it came to deciding who got which room. There are also all the usual strains of group travel. Someone will always need a wee just before a long bus journey, there will be times when everyone is exhausted, and no one wants to take charge. India, with its overloaded transport system, presents particular stresses.
But the place they are staying is beautiful and there are gorgeous sweeping shots of the colourful city (formerly known as Pondicherry) with its pink, blue and orange buildings, flower markets and papaya, aubergine and coconut farms. Never mind retirement, I’d like to go as soon as we’re allowed to travel again. And if any of this lot do decide to move there I’d gladly meet for a mango salad as they are delightful company.
The Real Marigold Hotel is on BBC One at 9pm