Ellen E Jones: The Weekend's TV from Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home to The Men Who Made Us Spend

This peppy father-and-son design show floats my boat

Meet Tom Lawton, adoring father, inventor and now presenter of his own TV show, Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home (Sun Channel 4). If he seems a little familiar, that’s because Tom’s essentially George Clarke of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces crossed with Kirstie Allsopp of Kirstie’s Fill Your House for Free: peppy, outdoorsy and full of gloriously impractical solutions for problems you never knew you had.

This three-part programme follows the adventures of Tom and his six-year-old son, Barney, as they turn the husk of a boat into the floating home of the title. What makes this home so fantastic are the life-enhancing inventions that will fill it. It will be the boat version of one of those inventors’ catalogues you get free with the Radio Times.

“Barney’s just got such a different perspective on things,” said Tom, by way of explaining his unusual choice of assistant. Be warned: parenthood does funny things to the critical faculties. It can make one confuse the scrawls of a sugar-crazed six-year-old with the lost sketches of Leonardo da Vinci. This was how Barney’s blueprints come to be transformed into inventions, including an “All-seeing Eye” balloon camera, an armadillo-shaped convertible roof, and a self-watering plant display. Some were successful, some less so and some wouldn’t pass a basic safety test. Particularly the soft-drink dispenser that shoots cans directly into your crotch. 

It doesn’t seem to have dawned on Channel 4 yet, but the greatest asset of this programme is not the ever-chirpy inventor or his darling son, it’s Hadrian, the determinedly untelegenic engineer. A long-suffering Jeeves to Tom’s well-meaning Wooster, Hadrian was tasked with turning the Lawton’s whizz-bang ideas into working devices, without sinking the boat and drowning them all. He progressed from the odd askance look to expressions of purest contempt, culminating in this grumbling assessment: “What he’s actually done is he’s invented something that’s a bit of a pain to make.”

Young Barney is only the latest child product designer in a long and sinister history, as we discovered in Saturday’s final instalment of Jacques Peretti’s documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend (BBC2). Peretti asked almost all his interviewees – toy manufacturers, advertising execs and video-game designers – a version of the same question: “Isn’t it wrong to commercialise childhood?” How quaint to even hear the matter raised! We’d got so used to it.

Well, it wasn’t always this way. George Lucas’s Star Wars was the first movie to utilise the power of merchandising and by the time Transformers came along in the 1980s, cartoons existed mainly as adverts for toys. By the mid-1990s advertisers had realised it was children who held the family purse strings, and soon marketing techniques devised for children had transformed adults, too, into impetuous, narcissistic childlike consumers.

To some extent we know this already, but by piecing together the links, Peretti’s programme has made the implications clear. It helped explain why the generation raised in the 1970s and 1980s never seemed to outgrow their computer games and Star Wars obsession: advertisers wanted them that way.

Perhaps by understanding the psychology behind marketing concepts like “stickiness” and “gamification” we’ll be empowered to make real choices? Then again, perhaps it’s already too late. As if to prove the point, Peretti wrapped up with the BBC’s own  bit of “gamification”: “Take a ride on the Open University Shopping Carousel and find out what influences you while you’re shopping. Go to bbc.co.uk and follow the links!” At least they’re not trying to sell us anything. Yet.

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'