As 2017 slides away...what book, film, TV or radio programme hit the spot for you?

Written by on . asked a random list of people among the many who have helped us in the past year, for their choice of 2017 book, film, television or radio programme.  We asked for a hundred words from each of them - it's an intriguing and varied list:

Councillor Mervyn Hall is the current Town Mayor:

My choice is the television series Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy and now in its fourth series. It is a gangster family epic based upon the exploits of the Peaky Blinders gang and set in Birmingham, during the aftermath of World War One.

I have chosen it because it is hugely entertaining and well written, but also because it is set in the Midlands, where I was born. The characters are pure fiction, but the world it portrays would have been known to my forbears, particularly to one great grandfather who was a waterman, working the midlands canals and raising seven children on a canal boat.

Jo Carroll was a much valued Columnist - then she moved to Newbury:

BBC Radio's Test Match Special.  It sits alongside the Shipping Forecast as one of life’s reassuring immovables.

It’s been a difficult year for many of us. Trump has been trumping. Brexit divisions  driving wedges between us. But still Anderson stands at the Pavilion End waiting for the batsman to settle. Aggers and Tuffers chew over the overs. Boycott reminds us he knows everything.

If I must choose a match - it was the women’s team World Cup victory. While the men’s shenanigans fill the news media, the women have - this year - played with doggedness and dignity. They have shown us what teamwork can do.

Bob Holman is sort of retired but still owns - and occasionally makes coffee for - The Food Gallery:

BBC 2's QI is a comedy quiz show full of quirky facts, where contestants are rewarded more if their answers are 'quite interesting'. Originally hosted by Stephen Fry, now by the marvellous Sandy Toksvig.

I’ve chosen it simply because I find it immensely entertaining. It just pleases me.  I don’t watch much television as our choice gets narrower, preferring to listen to music. I’ve grown tired of the public performing on stage, giving 110 per cent, desperate to become a C-list celebrity.

I love this programme’s clever, sharp humour - but only wish I could understand more of the questions!

Jan Williamson lives in Avebury and chairs the Marlborough LitFest

The book that most impressed me this year is Madeleine Thien’s extraordinary novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing

It’s the epic story of a family living through 60 years of China’s history from the Cultural Revolution to the uprising in Tiananmen Square.  It’s a story of family, music, calligraphy, story-telling and much more, but mostly it’s about what revolution does to families and individuals.

The novel’s structure is complicated, moving backwards and forwards in time, but it’s worth pursuing. The end result is hugely rewarding.  The author is Canadian of Chinese origin. The book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

Francesca Del Mar handles the publicity for Marlborough LitFest:

Emmy-winning debut TV series Big Little Lies was adapted from a bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty and brought a subversive twist to its apparently glossy take on the inhabitants of beachfront town, Monterey, in California.

Refreshing for its all-female leads including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, the narrative over seven episodes neatly unravelled layers of dark secrets, rumours and ultimately murder, exposing the seemingly perfect façade of family life.

Complete with atmospheric, moody California coastline shots and immaculate, envy-inducing interiors styling, this series confirmed the current hype around quality TV production and made for compulsive binge watching...Bring on the next series!

Chris Caswell is a Marlborough photographer, journalist - & sometime hockey player


Personally I think it’s been a great year for television whether terrestrial or streamed - entertainment or factual.  But the standout for me was the American documentary series The Vietnam War directed by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick on BBC4.


It is often difficult viewing, but the analysis and research made for an epic, educating and compulsive watch.   Sadly modern times are echoed throughout the series, showing how little we learn from history.


Not exactly Christmas fare but definitely documentary making at its finest.

Tony Millett writes for & for :

As The Vietnam War - a great television documentary - has been nabbed (see above), I'm going to cheat:

The novel Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from German by Susan Bernofsky) depicts everyday lives and awful predicaments of migrants in Berlin. It is brilliant, enlightening, uplifting, doom laden - and important.

If that book wakes us to present-day disaster, BBC TV's extraordinary Blue Planet II is a massive wake-up call about our long-term future - if there is one.


Our planet's seas are on the brink of man made disaster.  To survive, they need our help - NOW.

Matt Gow is head of politics at Marlborough College:

Nick Clegg's Politics: Between the Extremes provides fascinating insights into the Coalition - why it happened, how it worked. Nick Clegg gives unique, in-depth information about his relationship with Cameron and Osborne - and how LibDems sought to influence Coalition policies.

His narrative is honest and engaging.  He is prepared to admit mistakes. He manages to explain dry topics like the workings of the EU with great clarity - showing how much the referendum was founded on false information by both sides. There is some good humour in the book too.

Clegg explores the dangers of populism and argues for a more considered, thoughtful politics. A very readable, well-argued book offering potential solutions in difficult times.

Mark Thomas is chair of governors at Marlborough St Mary's Primary School:

I have chosen The Handmaid’s Tale (Channel Four series from Margaret Attwood's novel).   This disturbing story is set in a totalitarian society In the USA. 

Women are treated as property of the state and, in a desperate attempt repopulate a devastated world, the few remaining fertile women are forced into sexual servitude for elite couples who cannot conceive.

It is a deeply moving, complex book.  Though written over 30 years ago, it seems more realistic today as nearly everything depicted is happening somewhere in the world right now. Maybe it’s a frightening glimpse into our future?

I liked the TV series so much I then read the novel - unusual for me as I am more of a non-fiction man.

Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy is Marlborough's Team Rector:

The Fight for Mosul (Channel Four 7 November 2017) spared the viewer no details as Iraqi special forces freed the city from IS.

The scene that cheered me showed a family clutching their belongings as they went from one bombed out part of the city to another. Led by a family elder with a white flag, most of the possessions were in rucksacks or large bags.


One girl, however, was carrying a bird in a cage – her defiant statement that bombs and guns were not to have the final word. That's a great testament to the indomitability of the human spirit.

Jon Stock lives locally and writes as J.S. Monroe - latest novel Find Me:

George Saunders took a long time to write his first novel, but it's been worth the wait. I've been a huge fan of his short stories, particularly Tenth of December, and his debut in the longer form, Lincoln in the Bardo, doesn't disappoint. It's equally weird and inventive, and the exquisite language is something to savour.

Lincoln in the Bardo's multiple narratives can occasionally jar but he pulls off an ambitious, tender and fiercely original story about the former US President, Abraham Lincoln, visiting his dead 11-year-old son in the crypt of Georgetown cemetery.

No surprise that it won this year's Man Booker prize.

Angus Maclennan is the manager of The White Horse Bookshop:

My choice read of 2017 is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Juval Noah Harari (2015).

A fascinating, overarching view on the development of human civilisation from hunter/gatherer to cyberspace and the global village.

Although sometimes depressing in its conclusions, I was bowled over by this book's rigorous, unsentimental view of our species and the nature of our 'progress'. Harari's perspective on money, religion and society will remain a bedrock of how I look at things in these unstable times - sometimes as solace, sometimes as warning.

The author has followed with another book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017).

Chris Musgrave is the Estates Manager for Temple Farm on the Marlborough Downs:

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett: its 750 pages certainly ticked all the boxes.  Set in the Elizabethan era, it provides an enjoyable read and some history.

It's 1558 and in a small coastal town in southern England, Follett builds a picture of young Ned Williams as he returns home to a changed world.

Europe is in turmoil as high principles clash with friendship, loyalty and love - and  Europe is turning against England.   The shrewd young monarch sets up a secret service to give early warning of plots and invasions.

After the Armada's defeat, the story builds to the climax of the gunpowder plot.  A great read, just right for a cold winter's day, by a warm fire…possibly with a drink in hand!   Happy Christmas.