Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Of all the coy euphemisms that are likely to be directed at Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright in the weeks to come, the most spine- chilling must be "larger than life", a phrase that is almost invariably applied to the sort of booming bore who can clear a room quicker than pepper gas. But if you are allergic to such extravagances of character, you can hardly say that you haven't been warned. The opening titles of Two Fat Ladies (BBC2), yet another picaresque cookery programme, begin with two jolly cartoon figures driving a motorcycle and sidecar across a kitchen table. This vision is accompanied by a song, delivered in fruity Rex Harrison sprechgesang by the two presenters: "Grab that crab Clarissa/ Eat that meat, Jennifer/ Why! Doesn't that pheasant, look pleasant!/ Fasten your tastebuds for a gastronomic ride/ Because two fat ladies are itchin'/ To get inside your kitchen." Perhaps handguns shouldn't be banned after all.

What follows is a display of processed mannerism, a fine demonstration of how television can take the unpredictable vagaries of non-pasteurised personality and turn them into a dependable product. In private life, I'm sure both these women are perfect sweeties. (I'm not absolutely sure, to be honest, but it's only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt.) On screen, though, their unselfconscious quirks magnified into party pieces, they are a grievous affliction to the spirit. What's on sale is eccentricity, the spice of recalcitrance - whether it is against existing dietary pieties ("this is nice and rich. I like rich food. None of this nonsense about yoghurt instead of cream"), or the general cult of slender beauty.

One might even raise two cheers for such an enterprise if it took any real risks with affront. But in the event, nothing could be less eccentric than these two, or more precisely engineered to spin on the axis of television's addiction to frictionless novelty. Jennifer and Clarissa even threaten to out-gush Carluccio. "What a sweet fellow!" says one, after they've talked to a baffled-looking fisherman. "Wasn't he nice, yes," agrees the other. "Aren't they pretty!" says one, as they pick mussels off the rocks. "Aren't they! Aren't the rocks lovely, too," replies the other. "Isn't that pretty!" says one as she dishes up what she's cooked. "Isn't that very pretty," murmurs the other. The only object not bathed in this undiscriminating syrup of enthusiasm was a shark ("Don't like them at all. Yuk!" said Jennifer, as if they were an annoying hazard of everyday life), which hardly qualifies as a controversial opinion.

If you really want a funny double act combined with domestic instruction then let me commend Furniture to Go (The Learning Channel), a cable programme about furniture restoration presented by one fat guy with curly hair and a non-fat guy with a pony-tail. Ed Feldman and Joe L'Erario write the show themselves, and have clearly established a rapport with their American audience - the programme includes a section called "We Get Mail!", in which men from Ohio write in for advice on re-veneering a breakfront cabinet. The advice they are given is perfectly usable, but often delivered with a little wry spin - "Wear old clothes," warned Joe when describing how to varnish a door, "or wear new clothes and make them old in a second."

When Ed and Joe get bored renovating furniture, which they frequently do, they distract themselves in a variety of ways: by performing facial charades (beginning with "Tragedy" and "Comedy" and ending with "Bemusement" and "Thing Stuck Up Nose"), by exchanging useless information ("Aluminium said backwards? Munimoola!") or by making silly jokes ("Hey, where's the mallet - we have 'Absence of Mallet' here"). Most gratifying of all, they sometimes complete their work, stand back from the finished product and say "Geez, that looks ugly!". If there was the faintest hope that Jennifer or Clarissa might do something similar, Two Fat Ladies would be bearable, rather than the calculated, flavour-enhanced commodity that it is.