The British love a bossy, middle-class woman.
There was the reign of Margaret Thatcher, of course, and more recently the cold sweats and policy flip-flops to which Countess Lumley of Kathmandu reduced the Government. Down the pecking order, but no less seductive, are Delia, Trinny, Susannah, Sarah, Kirstie and now Allegra, dispensing bon mots and plain common sense advice to the confused masses huddled before their TV screens. The problem is, of course, we masses need to believe that these doyennes know what they're talking about.
In the case of Kirstie Allsopp in that cheerful perennial of the Channel 4 schedules, Location, Location, Location, that may no longer be the case – but more of her later. When it comes to the newest member of the club, Allegra McEvedy, she at least is on safer ground than Allsopp, preferring the timeless certainties of the kitchen to the smoke and mirrors of the property market. McEvedy and her co-presenter Paul Merrett are both chefs and have much good, simple information to impart in Economy Gastronomy.
The idea is that each week McEvedy and Merrett invite themselves into a family's home and attempt a nifty cullinary two-step: reducing their weekly grocery bill while improving their diet. The diagnosis of the Englands from Derbyshire took about two minutes flat: a chronic dependence on takeaways and ready meals, made worse by picky kids and demanding jobs, with the result that the weekly food bill soared past £200. The cure occupied the rest of the hour, and it was a course of treatment that Marguerite Patten might have doled out to young mothers 50 years ago: plan ahead, buy only what you need and use up your left-overs.
It had a glaze of 21st-century lifestyle programming – a bit of video diary, the obligatory shot of a table groaning beneath a typical week's shop, and relentless chumminess ("Brilliant!", "Enjoy!", "Let's get into the kitch![sic]") – but underneath it was unsurprising, if digestible public information stodge. McEvedy and Merrett got the Englands cooking and eating basics such as chilli con carne and bran and banana muffins (though I was with the nine-year-old when he turned his nose up at the hot-dog hot pot).
But while Merrett chirrupped away about "gastropub secrets", "bedrock recipes" and "tumbledown meals", the eye was drawn to McEvedy, particularly when she showed that blue-chip quality of the true alpha bourgeoise by vaguely waving off the doubts of Mrs England about her macaroni cheese and bashing on regardless: "That's not a fake yummy noise, is it?"
At the same time on Channel 4, Kirstie Allsopp was having to draw on all her devastating sense of entitlement to stop the real world breaking in to Location, Location, Location at the start of its umpteenth series. Unlike Sarah Beeny's Property Snakes and Ladders, which advises aspiring /deluded property developers, Location3 isn't quite so dependent on the property market bubble – Allsopp and her co-presenter Phil Spencer simply serve up two couples with various properties according to their needs. Still, a line at the end of the programme on Wednesday told us that the prices mentioned were correct "in March 2008".
Which skates over the fact that we've plunged into a global recession since then, a recession sparked off by, um, the relentless need to trade property. (And you don't need to remind Spencer of that: his own property business went into receivership earlier this year.) But never mind all that, here's Kirstie, murmuring vaguely about the market being "different", not wanting to see people "trapped in their homes", pointing at the lovely garden and flirting with Phil.
The participating couples seemed tactically distracting too: Martine had lost both her legs in the 7/7 bombings, though she and her husband certainly didn't go looking for the pangs of sympathy Spencer expressed on their behalf. Pradip and Dina, though, were priceless, housebuyers of a wonderfully bubble-headed, pre-crash vintage: he was subservient and compliant, she was picky and desperate for a home to make her friends "feel jealous that they're not living there". Kirstie's asides to camera made her feelings clear about such ghastly social one-upmanship.
But not even she looked comfortable as she, Pradip and Dina celebrated a successful phone negotiation with an agent in the couple's dream house. This family home had been described as a "fire sale" and the queasy estate agent bonhomie that traditionally follows the accepted offer faded quickly against the backdrop: shelves stuffed with kids' toys and disappointment.Reuse content