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What do Phil Mitchell, Alan Titchmarsh and Kim Jong-Un have in common? How British classics like Eastenders and Top Gear feature on North Korean TV next to the despot leader – (as Alan and his trousers become too hot to handle for the dictator state)

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It’s an isolated country where propaganda clips of missile launches and military parades are weaved into the daily television schedule.

But over the last ten years, despot Kim Jong-un has slowly been softening the totalitarian state’s stance on what North Koreans can binge watch – albeit with some bizarre censorship.

More recently, North Korea revealed plans to launch a £16-a-month Netflix-style streaming service.

One expected offering is Our Neighbours, a sitcom that takes place in a Pyongyang apartment and portrays a message that people loyal to the regime will be rewarded with a fashionable wardrobe and stylish household appliances.

Other offerings include soap operas detailing the tales of heroic soldiers and workers devoted to communist party.

A glimpse into North Korean life: The missile launches that North Korea regularly carries out already makes national news across the demilitarized zone in Seoul, South Korea (pictured)

A glimpse into North Korean life: The missile launches that North Korea regularly carries out already makes national news across the demilitarized zone in Seoul, South Korea (pictured)

The eighties saw North Korean films take a romantic turn with films such as Broad Bellflower amongst those that could air in the autumn on the new streaming service

The eighties saw North Korean films take a romantic turn with films such as Broad Bellflower amongst those that could air in the autumn on the new streaming service

Now 80, veteran North Korean news presenter Ri Chun-Hee still anchors major news stories - because she's such a well-known figure

Now 80, veteran North Korean news presenter Ri Chun-Hee still anchors major news stories – because she’s such a well-known figure

Long-running soap opera Our Neighbours; the programme is set around a posh neighbourhood in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang

Long-running soap opera Our Neighbours; the programme is set around a posh neighbourhood in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang

North Korea is looking to offer a new Netflix-style streaming service which will feature best soap operas, dramas, sitcoms, demented cartoons (pictured) and anti-West propaganda for just £16 per month

North Korea is looking to offer a new Netflix-style streaming service which will feature best soap operas, dramas, sitcoms, demented cartoons (pictured) and anti-West propaganda for just £16 per month

Other TV offerings include soap operas detailing the tales of heroic soldiers and workers devoted to communist party (pictured)

Other TV offerings include soap operas detailing the tales of heroic soldiers and workers devoted to communist party (pictured)

The channel will offer newscasts from anchor Ri Chun-Hee, who is known for her passionate and emotional commentary.

A day in the life watching TV in North Korea

3pm: Opening (national anthem, song of Kim Il Sung, song of Kim Jong Il)

3.10pm: Propaganda documentary or movie

4pm: Sport

5pm: News

5.10pm: Newspaper review

5.15pm: Children’s shows

5.45pm: Propaganda documentary, features, nature

8pm: News

8.15pm: Weather

8.20pm: Propaganda documentary or movie 

10.10pm: News

10.15pm: Weather

10.20pm: Closedown

Sports fans will also be able to sample ‘censored footage’ from world-famous events, such as the Wimbledon championship, several months after they have taken place.

Shiwani TV will stream worldwide, including in the US and South Korea where it reportedly could ‘breach national security laws’ and ‘be illegal to access’.

According to the small Warsaw-based organisation behind the deal, Chollima Front, registration has been steady so far, with less than a hundred people signed up in countries that include the US, Poland, Japan and South Korea. 

A channel spokesman alleged that the service ‘operates within the laws of Poland, Canada and Germany’ and also ‘respects certain relevant North Korean laws’.

The Polish embassy in the US is aware of the forthcoming launch, according to Radio Free Asia, and has alerted the ‘appropriate parties.’

However, back in 2014, a BBC initiative, supported by the Foreign Office, drew up a list of programmes the regime might consider importing.

At the time, Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed it as ‘a good way to improve understanding about the outside world within such a closed society’.

Programmes such as Teletubbies, EastEnders, Top Gear and Doctor Who were all mooted as potential shows that wouldn’t be deemed as offensive by the North Korea. 

Now, MailOnline has taken a look at some of the British TV programmes that reportedly passed the suitability test to be aired on the tightly-controlled state TV.

Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets

The UK’s 74-year-old national treasure became a huge hit with North Korean audiences after the series was first shown on state TV in 2022 – albeit not his jeans. 

The gardening legend was the victim of heavy-handed censorship recently when a 2010 episode of Garden Secrets was shown on Korean Central Television with his trousers blurred. 

Jeans are seen as a symbol of Western ‘imperialist’ fashion in the secretive state and as such are banned. 

Titchmarsh told MailOnline he was ‘flattered’ that his choice of workwear was ‘regarded as subversive’.

‘I’d never thought of myself as someone who was likely to lead the youth of North Korea astray,’ he said, before joking: ‘Alas, those jeans will be long gone or I’d donate them to the Garden Museum as being the most censored legwear in the history of horticulture.’

The UK's 74-year-old national treasure became a huge hit with North Korean audiences after the series was first shown on state TV in 2022 - albeit not his jeans

The UK’s 74-year-old national treasure became a huge hit with North Korean audiences after the series was first shown on state TV in 2022 – albeit not his jeans

The gardening legend was the victim of heavy-handed censorship recently when a 2010 episode of Garden Secrets was shown on Korean Central Television with his trousers blurred

The gardening legend was the victim of heavy-handed censorship recently when a 2010 episode of Garden Secrets was shown on Korean Central Television with his trousers blurred

Titchmarsh said he was 'flattered' that his choice of workwear was 'regarded as subversive'

Titchmarsh said he was ‘flattered’ that his choice of workwear was ‘regarded as subversive’

Doctor Who

The eccentric Time Lord’s sci-fi travels were among three BBC programmes the state supposedly selected to potentially show its people. 

A Pyongyang inside gave an insight into what kind of shows would pass its rigorous suitability test. ‘Anything too political was not suitable but these are entertainment shows.’ 

So no issue there then with seeing the likes of David Tennant, John Pertwee and Tom Baker playing the part of a humanoid species using a time-travelling machine in the shape of a British police box to traverse the universe. 

A Pyongyang inside gave an insight into what kind of shows would pass its rigorous suitability test. 'Anything too political was not suitable but these are entertainment shows'

A Pyongyang inside gave an insight into what kind of shows would pass its rigorous suitability test. ‘Anything too political was not suitable but these are entertainment shows’ 

The eccentric Time Lord's sci-fi travels were among three BBC programmes the state supposedly selected to potentially show its people

The eccentric Time Lord’s sci-fi travels were among three BBC programmes the state supposedly selected to potentially show its people

Top Gear

At its peak, 350 million viewers a week worldwide were tuning into the BBC programme to watch Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond taking part in some high-octane action. 

It was those viewing figures which saw the show land a Guinness World Record in 2013 as being the world’s most watched factual TV programme.  

No wonder the North Koreans wanted to get a slice of the action when it was the second of three programmes in 2014 to pass the suitability test.

It was likely that Top Gear may have had to have had some of its dialogue edited and censored before being broadcast, not to mention a lot of pairs of jeans to cover up.

It was likely that Top Gear, at least, may have had to have had some of its dialogue edited and censored before being broadcast

It was likely that Top Gear, at least, may have had to have had some of its dialogue edited and censored before being broadcast

Teletubbies

Ahhh – the 1990s hit children’s show following handbag-carrying Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po making nonsensical noises in Teletubbyland – all the while being overlooked by a giggling Baby Sun.

No wonder DUP MP Jim Shannon thought the show could change the attitudes of people in North Korea. 

He backed an early day motion in the House of Commons in 2014 that called for BBC programmes to be extended to the Korean peninsula.

It said: ‘The broadcast of programmes like Teletubbies would change the attitudes of the North Korean dictatorship, which has incarcerated more than 200,000 of its citizens in gulags.’ 

The 1990s hit children's show following handbag-carrying Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po making nonsensical noises in Teletubbyland - all the while being overlooked by a Baby Sun

The 1990s hit children’s show following handbag-carrying Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po making nonsensical noises in Teletubbyland – all the while being overlooked by a Baby Sun

DUP MP Jim Shannon thought the show could change the attitudes of people in North Korea

DUP MP Jim Shannon thought the show could change the attitudes of people in North Korea

North Koreans were given a rare treat in 2010 when the state TV showed the British football film ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ – the first western-made film to air in the country. 

But it appeared viewers didn’t get a full showing on December 26 of the 2002 film starring Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Parminder Nagra, as it was only an hour long.

The full film has a 112-minute running time.

In a tweet at the time, British Ambassador to South Korea Martin Uden trumpeted the broadcast, writing ‘Happy Christmas in Pyongyang. On 26/12 Bend it like Beckham was 1st ever western-made film to air on TV’.

North Koreans were given a rare treat in 2010 when the state TV showed the British football film 'Bend it Like Beckham' - the first western-made film to air in the country

North Koreans were given a rare treat in 2010 when the state TV showed the British football film ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ – the first western-made film to air in the country

Atonement

The North Koreans’ love affair with Keira Knightley appeared to continue in the form of 2007 film Atonement. 

Based on the Ian McEwan book, the Second World War drama was said to have been given the green light by the North Korean government as ‘they’re fine with period pieces, things that are safely in the past’, journalist Barbara Demick told Vanity Fair

The film was shown at the opening ceremonies of North Korea’s Pyongyang International Film Festival in 2008.

Demick said: ‘Their nightmare is some South Korean opera in which you see a typical working-class family in Seoul, the equivalent of Archie Bunker’s, with a bowl of fruit in the kitchen and a refrigerator full of food.’ 

The North Koreans' love affair with Keira Knightley appeared to continue in the form of 2007 film Atonement

The North Koreans’ love affair with Keira Knightley appeared to continue in the form of 2007 film Atonement

Mr Bean

He is one of the most iconic characters in TV history who shot to stardom across the world thanks to his comedic charm and childlike demeanour.  

The tweed-wearing oddball Mr Bean, played by the actor Rowan Atkinson, was one of a slew of programmes named in 2014 by a Foreign Office source as being suitable for North Korea. 

And it appeared he was a hit with the state too when Mr Bean: The Disaster Movie was shown to its people at the 2008 film festival, with it being reported that the generally reserved North Korean audience were ‘falling out of their seats’. 

The tweed-wearing oddball Mr Bean, played by the actor Rowan Atkinson, was one of a slew of programmes named in 2014 by a Foreign Office source as being suitable for North Korea

The tweed-wearing oddball Mr Bean, played by the actor Rowan Atkinson, was one of a slew of programmes named in 2014 by a Foreign Office source as being suitable for North Korea

EastEnders

EastEnders has been adorning British television screens since 1985 with more viewers being gripped to more than 5,700 episodes.   

And you don’t find many places filled with more drama than the streets of Albert Square.

Yet EastEnders, with its colourful characters such as Phil Mitchell, Pat Butcher, Ian Beale, and Pauline Fowler, was said to be among the programmes being touted in 2014 as being a suitable choice for North Korea in revealing something of the British way of life.  

But did it ever get shown in the country? Duff-duff…

Yet EastEnders, with its colourful characters such as Phil Mitchell, Pat Butcher, Ian Beale, and Pauline Fowler, was said to be among the programmes being touted in 2014 as being a suitable choice for North Korea in revealing something of the British way of life

Yet EastEnders, with its colourful characters such as Phil Mitchell, Pat Butcher, Ian Beale, and Pauline Fowler, was said to be among the programmes being touted in 2014 as being a suitable choice for North Korea in revealing something of the British way of life

EastEnders has been adorning British television screens since 1985 with more viewers being gripped to more than 5,700 episodes

EastEnders has been adorning British television screens since 1985 with more viewers being gripped to more than 5,700 episodes

The Good Life

The British sitcom The Good Life, produced by the BBC, ran from 1975 to 1978 on BBC 1 and focused on the midlife crisis of Tom Good, a 40-year-old plastics designer.

It follows the highs and lows of Tom and his wife Barbara as they attempt to escape their modern lifestyle and became self-sufficient in their suburban home.

Rated the ninth best sitcom in Britain, it was also suggested as an option for programmes aired in North Korea which were not ‘offensive’.

The Good Life, produced by the BBC, ran from 1975 to 1978 on BBC 1 and focused on the midlife crisis of Tom Good (played by Richard Briers) and Barbara (played by Felicity Kendall)

The Good Life, produced by the BBC, ran from 1975 to 1978 on BBC 1 and focused on the midlife crisis of Tom Good (played by Richard Briers) and Barbara (played by Felicity Kendall)

Miss Marple

Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Jane Marple was also deemed acceptable to be aired on North Korea’s screens.

The amateur consulting detective Miss Marple lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and is often portrayed as an elderly spinster.

The character was classed as being able to ‘open [the North Korean] people’s eyes to the world beyond the closed republic without offending the regime’. 

Agatha Christie's fictional character Miss Jane Marple was also deemed acceptable

Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Jane Marple was also deemed acceptable

The amateur consulting detective Miss Marple lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and is often portrayed as an elderly spinster

The amateur consulting detective Miss Marple lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and is often portrayed as an elderly spinster

Poirot

The detective theme continues with Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 33 Agatha Christie novels and 51 of her short stories.

The character has appeared in countless adaptions – first played by Charles Laughton on the West End stage in 1928.

And the fictional Belgian detective may also be adapted for North Korea’s screens. 

Poirot has been portrayed on radio, in film and on TV by many actors, such as Austin Trevor, Albert Finney, Tony Randall and David Suchet.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The detective theme continues with Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 33 Agatha Christie novels and 51 of her short stories

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The detective theme continues with Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 33 Agatha Christie novels and 51 of her short stories

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver in A Haunting in Venice

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver in A Haunting in Venice

Kenneth Branagh is sleuth Hercule Poirot in three thrillers based on Agatha Christie novels

Kenneth Branagh is sleuth Hercule Poirot in three thrillers based on Agatha Christie novels



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