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Selfridge has lots more in store

PERIOD drama was lurking around every corner at the weekend. So what was it to be: Victorian slash-kills in the BBC's Ripper Street or Edwardian cash tills in ITV's Mr Selfridge?

In the end, Mr Selfridge won out in our house, if only because there have been plenty of gory crime dramas around lately but not too many about retailing.

Well, okay, there was BBC1's The Paradise, a travesty of an Emile Zola novel, not so long back but that wasn't particularly good.

On first sight Mr Selfridge, the story of how the visionary American retailer Harry Gordon Selfridge built his famous department store and in the process transformed the way Londoners shopped, looks better.

Mr Selfridge's main selling point, apart from a striking recreation of the period, is a brash, bustling lead performance by Entourage's Jeremy Piven.

With his fluorescent white teeth flashing through some impeccably maintained facial hair, Piven looks nothing like photographs of the real Selfridge; he certainly fills the screen with energy, though.

It dives straight into the action in 1909, when Selfridge is about to throw open the doors of his lavish emporium for the first time, and then flashes back a year to show his struggle to get there.

Sneered at by the press and looked down upon by the stuffy, snobbish retail community as a vulgar interloper, Selfridge's recklessly ambitious project looks doomed to premature failure when his English business partner, appalled at his flash, in-your-face brand of marketing, pulls out, leaving him with an expensive hole in the ground at "the wrong end of Oxford Street".

But a sympathetic journalist introduces him to powerful, married socialite Lady Mae Loxley (Katherine Kelly, late of Coronation Street), a risqué type who flirts with everything in trousers and keeps her toyboy hidden in plain sight, and fresh funds are secured.

He also receives an introduction to a sexy music hall singer played by Zoe Tapper, is immediately smitten and starts showering her with expensive gifts, including a fur coat. "This is my ticket out of here," she coos to an envious friend.

Since Selfridge has a wife, a mother and children in tow, you can see where this is heading.

Mr Selfridge is frothier than what we've come to expect from Davies, who's carved out a niche as TV's king of the period drama, and I imagine he's taken a fair bit of licence. It looks great, though, zips along at a cracking pace and should pick up a good slice of the Downtown Abbey audience.

Though the makers of Raw, back for a fifth series, might not realise, it too is a period drama, redolent of a time when the Celtic Tiger was roaring its loudest, Dublin was swimming in money and materialism was the new religion.

It's amazing how, in the four years since it first appeared on RTE2, something so edgy and vibrant -- or at least something with the veneer of edginess and vibrancy -- has mutated into a dreary, repetitive, claustrophobic soap opera, revolving around the insular lives of a small group of not very interesting characters.

Jo-Jo (Charlene McKenna) is back from her backpacking and -- to the surprise of the staff and the horror of her mother, played by Ger Ryan -- has brought home an American husband called Anthony (Michael Malarkey), who couldn't be more dodgy if he had the word 'Trouble' engraved on his forehead with a fish knife.

Strictly for women who buy books with pink covers.

A brief word about Splash!, a celebrity-reality contest of near heroic pointlessness, in which Olympic medallist Tom Daley -- the third-best high-diver in the world, let's not forget -- teaches a gang of celebrities, including comedian Omid Djalili and one of those indistinguishable Pussycat Dolls, to bellyflop artlessly into a swimming pool while a panel of judges,the well-known athlete Jo Brand among them, look on.

That brief word is Plop!