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Carry on camping

Britain’s Next Big Thing (BBC2, Tuesday) is another reality show in which members of the public risk humiliation for the chance of brief success and even briefer fame.

16 April 2011

12:00 AM

16 April 2011

12:00 AM

Britain’s Next Big Thing (BBC2, Tuesday) is another reality show in which members of the public risk humiliation for the chance of brief success and even briefer fame.

Britain’s Next Big Thing (BBC2, Tuesday) is another reality show in which members of the public risk humiliation for the chance of brief success and even briefer fame. It’s Masterchef with craftwork. In the first episode, various people tried to pitch their designs to Liberty, the department store in London that resembles a mock-Tudor country-house hotel. The kind where the rooms have names instead of numbers and there are tortuously worded notices telling you not to steal the dressing-gowns.

The chief buyer is Ed Burstell, an American who wears a casually knotted scarf, even indoors. Ed is camp. Very camp. There is Camp coffee, scout camp and there is Ed. Ed adores fabrics decorated with patterns from microscopes, driftwood turned into fruit bowls, even trainer bras (why do teenage girls need to be trained? Can’t they just put the bras on? Boys don’t buy trainer underpants) in vivid colours, though he can’t pick them because nobody would take their 12-year-old daughter to Liberty instead of M&S. But they were beautifully made, and would be a stylish way of carrying fruit for a snack at work.

The presenter is Theo Paphites, of Dragons’ Den, who is not camp. He even refers to his wife as ‘Mrs P’, and says things such as, ‘I like people,’ as opposed to the rest of us, who like quite a few people but not by any means all.


The stars, apart from Ed, are members of the public, who come cheap and are glad to be on television. I have a fear that soon every programme will be about members of the public. ‘Here on Hope for the Planet we have six ordinary people who are going to try to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. First, Heather from Luton wants to test her theory, which is that everyone involved needs a great big hug.’

Three more members of the public appeared on Misbehaving Mums-to-Be (BBC3, Thursday). They were all pregnant; one smoked 20 cigarettes a day, one drank four bottles of wine a day, and the other ate nothing but junk food and was morbidly obese. I suspect, as in so many modern documentaries, we were invited to take pleasure in despising these women for their ignorance and lack of self-control. But they turned out to be rather charming, with the possible exception of Julie, who runs a bar, and was resentful that a baby should make any difference: ‘You pee on a little white stick, and basically you have to stop living, you have to stop smoking and drinking…it’s all nanny culture and scaremongering.’ I am so glad I wasn’t born to Julie. But the others were lovely, even the one who pulled out because she couldn’t stop smoking.

We watched the second episode of Lewis (ITV) after dinner on Sunday, but something had gone wrong with the thing that makes a programme pause on Sky, which meant that we lost half an hour from the middle. And it made no difference at all. Clearly, we’d missed one, maybe two murders, but the plots are so complicated that you neither need nor want to keep up.

Twelve years ago, I co-wrote a failed pilot for a political sitcom. One of the characters, an MP, wanted to go to the new millennium celebrations in the Dome, so tried to steal another character’s ticket. Our line manager acted out the logistics to see if it worked: ‘So the ticket is here, but X hasn’t noticed it, so Y picks it up, and how does he open it without X realising?’, and so on. I wanted to say, ‘Only the most anally retentive viewer would follow anything that closely…’ Similarly, we watch Lewis for the banter, the hints of a love affair, the pleasant shots of Oxford and the interesting lunatics who populate that city. We don’t actually care about the details.

A thought: if Conan Doyle had been writing for television, he wouldn’t have needed to resurrect Holmes after killing him. They’d have just commissioned a new series called Watson!, in which regrettably no case would ever be solved.

And the clichés of popular detective series continue. Here are one or two: if someone kisses someone else and says, ‘You take good care of yourself,’ the kissee is likely to die. Anyone wearing a hood is suspect, unless they are a young person, unfairly blamed for something. Whereas a monk is likely to be evil. Any character who stares for more than five seconds at the back of the head of someone who is leaving is probably up to no good. Characters who are rude to everyone are generally innocent. More murders are plotted in farmyards than in the vilest slums. And, for some reason, anyone involved with horses is probably a bad lot.


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