Jamie's Ministry of Food, Channel 4
Beautiful People, BBC2
Ian Hislop Goes Off The Rails, BBC4
Jamie Oliver is using posters of himself as Lord Kitchener in his latest TV challenge, but where's the war?
Sunday 05 October 2008
Unlikely, but Jamie Oliver has started a pyramid scheme – Jamie's Ministry of Food, Channel 4. He's gone to Rotherham to show a dozen kitchen-dodgers how to cook healthy food, on the basis that they will pass it on to friends, who will then pass it on in turn. A bit like gonorrhoea, but wonderful. Some of the families Jamie meets eat nothing but kebabs and chocolate; their children are sallow and losing their teeth. He gets the parents pan-frying salmon. It's all very inspiring, a great adult education course. There's just a small problem with doing it on telly: the rhetoric gets out of hand.
Jamie Oliver makes posters of himself as Lord Kitchener. A nice pun, but he really does seem to think there's a war going on. "The last time there was a food crisis, the Ministry of Food stepped in," he says, over footage of Doctor Carrot. The last time there was a food crisis? Doubtless, there are currently social groups that can use the help of a TV chef to ease them into bourgeois eating routines, but to compare that situation to a wartime import ban and nationwide rationing, is, well, just a little parboiled. It's the usual false emergency TV thrives on. The logic of national broadcasting also means that the whole thing comes larded with the usual hyperbole: "Can Jamie change the way Britain eats?" Can they not think of a new way of asking this question, year on year? Jamie Oliver is marvellously tireless; I cannot say the same for my jaded senses. But Oliver has the wit and good grace to include lots of unflattering clips, such as the moment he sneaked up on a volunteer cooking at home. She looked up from a hot stove to see him waggling his face at her through the window. "Knob-'ead!" she shouted. It isn't a type of pasta.
Beautiful People comes running on to the screen and licks you all over. It's a Labrador of a sitcom, so eager to please it's exhausting. It's adapted memoirs of one Simon Doonan, a "slightly fey window dresser in glamorous New York" who started off life as "as slightly fey schoolboy in humdrum Reading". It's like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, except camp. Screamingly, thrashingly, life-threateningly camp. Although there are many lovely moments where it seems to revive – I am afraid that it ultimately dies of camp. Such a pity! Some of the two schoolboys' dialogue is priceless (aspiring intellectuals, they pronounce "epitome" to rhyme with "gnome") and little Layton Williams as the lead's best friend Kyle (or as he insists on being known, Kylie) is just brilliant, a star in the making. Olivia Colman as the mother is fabulously warm. There are some killer lines ("Two fashion pointers: never wear nylon, and never wear nylon bought for you by a blind person"). But as with Ugly Betty, the problem is that it tries too hard to bring a camp aesthetic overground; to deliver a mainstream version of camp when by definition camp is a secret, niche sensibility.
Imagined conversation at the BBC. TV journalist: "I'd like to make a programme about the railways." TV executive: "No chance. Where's the human interest?" TV journalist: "It's in all of our interests, surely?" Executive: "Yes but who's the hero? Who's the zero? It's all faceless civil servants and wheels going clickety clack." There's an undeniable TV editorial bias away from ideas and towards people, which was possibly why, at first, Ian Hislop Goes Off the Rails purported to be a documentary villainising Dr Harry Beeching for being "the mad axeman" of the British Railway system. Boo! Hiss! But then it turned out to be something much fairer and more important: a study of the general decline of Britain's railways over the last century. The abuse and neglect was systemic, not personal: Beeching's dramatic slashing of thousands of miles of track was the awful consequence of mismanaged nationalisation. It couldn't have been a more salutary or timely programme, and Ian Hislop, sweetly tossing a red scarf over his shoulder, like Winnie the Pooh delivered it with style.
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