Last Night’s Television - MasterChef, BBC2; Storyville: Maradona – In The Hands of the Gods, BBC4

The world at their feet
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The Independent Culture

Beware any documentary that comes billed as a story of redemption, especially a documentary that tries to blend the redemptive theme with the playground art of football keepy-uppy. However, Storyville: Maradona – in the Hands of the Gods delivered on both counts, telling the story of five lads from England, all experts in keepy-uppy (which these days goes by the more dignified name “freestyle”), who resolved to work their passage to Buenos Aires in the hope of meeting their hero, Diego Maradona. One of them, Sami, an asylum-seeker from Somalia with an accent that was pure Dewsbury, was an especially troubled young man, with a history of drug-related convictions, so that’s where the redemption came in. He yearned to make his mother proud of him “for half an hour”, which rather indicated the extent of his troubled past. Happily, he did make it to Argentina and got Maradona to sign his shirt, although it never became clear whether this suggested to his mum back home in Yorkshire that he would now become a responsible member of society. Holding down a job in a building society would probably have been her preference on the redemption front, but it would have made a less stirring spectacle for the rest of us.

I enjoyed Gabe and Ben Turner’s film, although it was not without flaws. Unless I missed it there was no explanation of how five lads from all over England came together in the first place, and the suspicion lingered throughout that a documentary-maker in urgent need of a commission had hand-picked them, boy band-style, and promised them a night-and-day camera crew if only they would pretend that their life’s ambition was to meet Maradona. Also, I felt a tiny bit queasy that five English lads should seemingly so worship the man who by foul as well as fabulous means, and in more ways than one, single-handedly knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup. In fairness, hardly any of them were even born when he did so. But then, that again raised the question: if none of them had seen him in his marvellous pomp, why the adulation?

Never mind. In many ways, the great Diego was incidental. This was essentially a road movie, and its subjects were engaging enough to overcome the suspicion of artificiality. Also, I’m a sucker both for keepy-uppy and happy endings. One of the lads, Woody, was so thrilled after meeting Maradona that real salt tears coursed down his cheeks. Perhaps he should go in search of Gazza next.

Meanwhile, another thrilling journey got closer to its conclusion last night. This is the week of the MasterChef final and in our house we have watched it with rapt delight since the very first scallop was seared in round one. That said, our devotion to MasterChef makes us feel entitled to criticise the format. For the next series, they should either find another woman to do the voiceover or tell this one that she no longer needs to pretend that she is addressing recalcitrant toddlers at a playgroup. Also, the camera lingers just a little too long on judge John Torode’s mouth when he is savouring the contestants’ food. We always try to make sure that we have eaten by then. Nobody in our family wants to see Torode energetically masticating before dinner.

Anyway, last night the final three – Christopher, Andy and Mat – went to the Scottish Highlands to cook for soldiers in the Black Watch. Their first task was to prepare a meal out in the field, under the Black Watch-ful eye of a sergeant who was described by our friend the playgroup supervisor as an “extreme-cooking expert”. He certainly had an extreme hat, bearing both a bobble and a feather. Their next challenge was to serve a three-course dinner in the warrant officers’ mess back at the garrison, Fort George, and while I was rueing the fact that it wasn’t called Camp George, which was the nickname of a head waiter I once worked with, Christopher, Andy and Mat prepared what in truth looked like pretty simple fare, not up to their usual extravagant standards. The warrant officers loved it, though, their benedictions ranging from “very good” to “lovely” to “very, very good”.

Still, soldiers should not be teased for the poverty of their analytical vocabulary. They are not in the word business, unlike the trio of restaurant critics served up last week in a lightly whipped foam of scorn, one of whom, a woman from the The Sunday Times, dared to suggest that an oyster sitting decorously atop a steak resembled a giant bogey. In our house we quivered with indignation. We have become very fond of Christopher, Andy and Mat, as indeed we were of Chris, who was ejected at last Thursday’s semi-final stage for going slightly to pieces, so we were pleased that the chaps of the Black Watch gave them an easy ride, and we don’t really mind who emerges as the winner, as long as we don’t see too much of his truffle mash in John Torode’s gob.

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