Television Review: Watercolour Challenge

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YOUR MISSION (should you choose to accept it) is to find some television worth watching on a Friday in high summer. Hell, introduce a time limit and a modest prize of some sort and it is a programme concept in itself: Critic's Challenge.

Jeremy Paxman and Anneka Rice may be taking a short rest but the schedules are severely challenged just the same. In production companies up and down the land Peter Bazalgette wannabes are trying to clone programmes that will combine the touchy-feely charms of home interest pursuits with the nervous indigestion of Mastermind.

Watercolour Challenge (C4) has furnished a nice little earner for Hannah Gordon who gets to present a daily 30-minute programme in which she visits an area of Britain, collars the local amateurs and gives them four hours to paint a beauty spot. Each day a winner is selected and on Friday we enjoy a grand final at Cawdor Castle.

The success of "How to" style painting programmes has prompted someone to come up with a format in which adult education meets the gameshow. The guest judge was the castle's dowager who had the enviable knack of making "charming" sound like a dirty word - the losers were all "charming". In fact, this week's finalists were all pretty good, each rendering the subject in a distinct style.

As a struggling beginner, I would have welcomed a little more chat from the resident expert on the techniques and palette of colours each painter had chosen, and if that meant cutting back on Hannah Gordon gushing "Ooh! That's looking really lovely!" every five minutes, all well and good. At about half-time, the camera took a break from snooping over the artists' shoulders and followed Hannah as she mooned around the grounds of Cawdor Castle, delivering an interior monologue of lines from Macbeth. This was considerably less interesting than watching paint dry. Never mind. It is an attractive programme and it knows its place: the perfect accompaniment for a pot of Darjeeling and a barrel of Gypsy Creams.

Celebrity Ready Steady Cook (BBC1) would be equally at home in the daytime schedules, but it has pretensions to greater things so it goes out at prime-time. So should you. Is this really the best BBC1 has to offer at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening? I do not care if it is August.

Not that ITV is any better. Viewers in the south east have the option of watching LWT's mind-boggling Boot Sale Challenge in which two couples are supplied with coloured sweatshirts and pounds 100 and told to go forth and multiply. One competitor - a proud veteran of these motorised jumble sales - boasted that he had once paid pounds 2 for a painting which later sold for pounds 700. Such an obscene level of return is obviously the holy grail of this dreary series, but it is an unsavoury business. It is one thing to pick up a bargain from old curiosity shopkeepers who ought to know better, but trading on the ignorance of fellow car-booters seems mean-spirited, to say the least. Antiques Roadshow (the obvious model for this avaricious, treasures-in-the-attic fantasy) is at least in the business of bringing happy endings to the unwitting owners of precious objects: Car Boot Challenge sets out to mug them before they get to the valuation table.

Yesterday's bounty hunters wandered up and down a Buckinghamshire field haggling for various bits of tat. Their browsing was interrupted by "Top Tips" on how to pick up bargains. Apparently, what you really want is toys in their original packaging - what nerdy collectors call NRFB (Never Removed From Box). I like to think there is a curse on any toy that has never been played with, but this anal obsession with blister packs is nowhere near as sinister as the evening's key piece of advice: "Always check the bottoms of Cabbage Patch Dolls". I forget why.

By the judicious purchase of various cult playthings and nasty-but-collectable Sixties kitchenware, the winning team managed to buy a bin-liner of stuff valued at 185 quid. The losers spent their ton on an pounds 85 pile of cack. This was mildly satisfying, but it did not compensate me for the 30 minutes I wasted watching the darn thing. Viewers in other regions had their own programmes: they should be very grateful.

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