I Love My Country: Is the BBC's 'patriotic' celebrity quiz show television's most inane achievement yet?


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The Independent Culture

When ITV1 launched its celebrity diving show Splash!, the critical derision it prompted only succeeded in driving masochistic viewers to the belly-flopping entertainment on offer.

So let’s help the BBC1 publicity machine out – I Love My Country, its new “patriotic” celebrity quiz show, is so thoroughly, idiotically inane, it could well be the worst entertainment offering that the corporation has yet dredged up for the edification of Saturday night viewers.

Presented by Splash! host Gabby Logan (can she repeat the magic?), after David Walliams fled the scene of the pilot episode, the entire venture appears to be a parody of some long-forgotten 1970s Seaside Special-style knees-up.

I Love My Country was imported from the Netherlands under a “first-look” deal with Talpa, the company which sold the BBC the middling talent show, The Voice.

It’s a “first look” in the sense that a bereaved family is asked to confirm the identity of a corpse.

The proceedings open with Mrs Logan dancing awkwardly to the strains of Queen’s totalitarian anthem "One Vision", played by a house band led by noughties pop singer Jamelia.

The camera swoops over the audience, hyped into a flag-waving frenzy, who are required to wear coloured comedy wigs. They are split into two teams, behind their captains, Frank Skinner and comic Micky Flanagan.

Skinner explores the comic potential of his teammate, Casualty actress Charlotte Salt, until every possible mirth-inducing permutation of her surname is ground to er, salt.

The teams compete for tonight’s star prize, a commemorative I Love My Country plate, displayed by two female “hostesses”.

A geographical test requires the teams to identify the village of Lickey End, to predictable hilarity. The captains must mark locations of interest on an oversized map of the UK, using a Yorkshire pudding to win points.

History next – who are the two figures of national importance whose faces have been digitally merged? Of course, it’s Winston Churchill and Ann Widdecombe.

The highlight of the episode is a sit-down game of Pass The Parcel. But someone in BBC Entertainment lacked the confidence that this party-stopper alone would give Saturday nights enough zing. The parcel will “explode” after three minutes of quick-fire questions. The bar is set by the conundrum, “What is the capital of Wales?”

Miranda actor Tom Ellis is asked how many letters make up the English alphabet. Under intense pressure, “28” is his best reckon. The parcel eventually emits a shower of paper and smoke with a health & safety-approved phut.

Jamelia leads the audience through a singalong of "All You Need Is Love", to lift spirits. Then out of nowhere, a question about sculptor Henry Moore is slipped into the increasingly odd cocktail.

Skinner and Flanagan are whisked off Generation Game-style to learn a “traditional British past-time”. They return, in feathered costume, to perform a spot of ye olde englishe samba dancing.

Behind Mrs Logan, a distracting Big Ben clock whirrs at ten times normal speed, giving the programme a deranged, almost psychedelic, Alice In Wonderland air.

After 45 baffling minutes, Mrs Logan signs off the show, thanking the audience and guests, with the words: “They all love their country and so do I.”

Has Mrs Logan been seized by the spirit of Hughie Green who notoriously hijacked a 1976 Opportunity Knocks to rant against bolshy unions and urge Britons to “stand up and be counted”?

Speaking at the series launch, Skinner declined to make any intellectual claims for the show, which has been adapted for national audiences across Europe and has even hit Chinese screens. “My British history is about the level of the programme. They’re not going to ask us anything about who killed the Princes in the Tower,” the comic predicted.

The Tower could be where everyone involved in I Love My Country’s garish parade of stupidity, deserves to end up. There – now watch the ratings soar.

I Love My Country, BBC1, Saturday, 7.30pm