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Glorious send-up

Bellamy’s People (BBC2, Thursday) began life in 2006 as a spoof Radio Four phone-in show called Down the Line presented by ‘award-winning’ Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) with the Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse playing the various callers.

20 January 2010

12:00 AM

20 January 2010

12:00 AM

Bellamy’s People (BBC2, Thursday) began life in 2006 as a spoof Radio Four phone-in show called Down the Line presented by ‘award-winning’ Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) with the Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse playing the various callers.

Bellamy’s People (BBC2, Thursday) began life in 2006 as a spoof Radio Four phone-in show called Down the Line presented by ‘award-winning’ Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) with the Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse playing the various callers.

Now it has moved to TV and its satirical target — not before time — are all those programmes where celebrities drive round the country meeting people and saying, ‘Isn’t Britain brilliant?’ So, in his classic Triumph Stag with a Union flag painted on the bonnet, Bellamy gets to meet his giggling northern fan club, cheeky-chappy plasterer, a Pakistani community leader (‘What does a community leader do, exactly?’ Bellamy asks, without getting a very satisfactory answer), and a cheerful elderly gentleman who thinks it’s terribly important to keep up with modern trends, by using the internet and so forth, and not to dwell on how much better the past was because in many cases it wasn’t.

Though it does have its broad-comedy moments — like the two elderly Mitford-style sisters who have divided their stately home exactly down the middle, one side dedicated to Stalin and the other to Hitler — it’s mostly much more subtle observational stuff. Felix Dexter’s ‘De Lion of Harlesden’, for example, is a glorious send-up of something we’ve seen a thousand times on TV documentaries: the lovable, colourful, larger-than-life West Indian strutting through a street market, greeting everyone by name, while the sheepish white presenter makes pathetic attempts to emulate his vibrant, typically Caribbean ebullience while struggling to understand what he’s saying.


In an Independent interview, Charlie Higson described with characteristic bone-dry acuity the extent of the problem: ‘We’ve had Alan Titchmarsh on natural history, David Dimbleby on architecture, Martin Clunes on islands, Griff Rhys Jones on mountains and rivers, Robbie Coltrane on B-roads, James May and Oz Clark on drink. Andrew Marr’s even done Britain from Above. They haven’t done Britain from Below yet — I suppose it might be a bit gloomy!’ Bellamy’s Britain is going to kill the genre stone-dead.

With luck, Gordon’s Great Escape (Channel 4, Monday) will have a similarly lethal effect on the presenter-led cookery travelogue. It was a cliché virtually from the moment Keith Floyd invented it: the colourful, larger-than-life foreign chef welcoming the presenter like an old friend into his kitchen; the amazed exclamations about how so much more incredibly rich and fresh and vibrant Johnny Foreigner’s cuisine is than ours; the ingredients you can’t get at home, nor the locations and views so, really, why torture yourself watching?

Gordon Ramsay’s latest take on the genre isn’t just car-crash but multiple-motorway-pile-up. If they’d sent an Asperger’s kid with a side order of Tourette’s to make a sensitive documentary about a Carmelite nunnery, they could scarcely have found a less appropriate presenter for this Indian travelogue.

For a start, Ramsay swears too much. On his previous programmes — Sort Out Your Cooking, You Useless ****ing Bastard!, say, or Gordon’s Big Sweary **** Off Kitchen, or Gordon’s Enormous Throbbing Cock (Au Vin) — we could accept this as part of his, er, ebullient, larger-than-life-persona. But in the context of gentle, politely spoken Indians he just sounds rude. You can see they all find it (and his brashness, and overcultivated muscularity) baffling and slightly upsetting. I’ve never ever seen a presenter enjoy such little rapport with the people he meets,

He’s a bully, too. Again, we knew that. But this time, instead of being brutishly, mildly funny, it was plain embarrassing. In one particularly painful episode, Ramsay was taken into the desert and taught a recipe by the mildly effete, plummy, and no doubt quite spoilt nephew of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Ramsay got chippy. Feeling, apparently, that he was being treated like a servant rather than the famous, sex-god, multimillionaire owner of an array of Michelin-starred restaurants, Ramsay flounced off into the dunes refusing to return till the man said sorry. I’ll bet Ramsay’s line on this is that it was a joke. It didn’t look like it.

At one point, Ramsay was filmed running after his train having nearly missed it. Yeah, right. His director will have asked him to do that, having grown a bit desperate over Ramsay’s failure to say or do anything charming, funny, interesting or enlightening. That’s probably why they sent him up a 40-foot tree to cut down a nest of edible ants. So he could get bitten.

Here’s the sad thing, though. Ramsay is a truly stupendous cook, one of the greatest restaurateurs of his generation. We glimpsed this in the final scene where, in a New Delhi restaurant, Ramsay managed to refamiliarise himself with such strange objects as cooking utensils and ingredients, and concoct a stupendous dinner. Stick to what you know best, eh?


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