Depressingly, the Hairy Bikers turned up under the "Top Tier – Highly Valued" heading in the BBC Knowledge's leaked talent list, which suggests that in the new year we'll probably have them presenting everything from daytime chat shows to a Horizon special on string theory. For the moment, though, you can still appreciate them in their proper setting... the novelty cookery programme. "Ooohh!... strike a light!" said Si (or possibly Dave), "It's that time of year again... it's the Hairy Bikers Christmas special!" They were dressed in top hats and frock coats, carrying lanterns, and advancing down a Dickensian cobbled street in a way that made the spirit sag like an undercooked soufflé. "Fun, food and frolics await!" promised Dave (or possibly Si), making it sink still further. Just remember, you can switch over at black moments like this, but I'm professionally obliged to stick it out to the end, through 58 teeth-grinding minutes of ersatz joviality.
As they're a double act there was a lot of that awful business of dismembering the script so that one person begins a sentence leaving. The other one to finish it off. It's a stylistic tic that leads to an unholy amount of synthetic badinage and larking about – and which more than once here (thanks to the Tyneside accent) left you feeling that you were looking at a grim, Ghost of Christmas Future vision of Ant and Dec. This is what it could come to, lads, if you don't keep an eye on your waistlines and get a bit sloppy with the personal grooming. But where Ant and Dec display a kind of genius as a double act, Dave and Si have now become laboriously gladsome, a problem accentuated by the fact that their script here made Big Top seem funny by comparison.
The structural conceit of The Hairy Bikers' Twelve Days of Christmas was to build the programme around the song, starting with a partridge in a pear tree (a slightly baffling sequence involving a Norwich DJ who is supposedly the inspiration for Alan Partridge) and ending with a Scottish pipers band. I momentarily perked up when this device was revealed, assuming that they would at least have a crack at cooking a swan. But instead they slathered Si (or Dave) in goose fat and sent him swimming, nicking off to a nearby pub afterwards for a pint of Seven Swans ale. The five golden rings were giant-sized pretzels, baked on the site for the Olympic swimming arena, while the four calling birds were call-centre workers, hoicked down to a Newcastle quayside to sample citrus-crusted chicken breasts. "I'm a fan of Nando's but you've done a good job," said one, which sounded a bit like faint praise to me.
The only other entertainment was provided by the fact that Dave (or Si) had injured his leg at some point in the filming – after they'd done ten lords a-leaping (Michael Flatley's dance troupe eating an Irish beef-and-ale stew) but before they'd done the early bits – meaning they had to own up to filming the whole thing out of sequence, in order to explain why his limp had disappeared overnight and he was suddenly able to caper around in a pink tutu for a "comedy" sequence. But that was too mild a stimulant to save the day. I think someone on the production team must have been in agony too, because in amid the boilerplate seasonal crooning and sleighbell jingling they'd smuggled a little number called "Christmas Time'll Soon Be Over" onto the soundtrack, as if to reassure us that the pain wouldn't last for ever.
On the face of it, Jamie's Family Christmas shouldn't really have been any different. But there's something about the approach here that has a saving irony to it. Perhaps it's the way that Jamie's kitchen has been so wildly overdressed with Christmas ornaments, as if to say, "We know this kind of thing is daft... but it can be fun if you make a joke of it." In one bizarre sequence, he could barely make it on screen for paper snowflakes, which were hung in such abundance that it looked as if there'd been an avalanche in an ornament factory. Fortunately, he wasn't doing anything that involved a naked flame. And when he mucks about it somehow feels real. At one point, he conspiratorially told us that he was going to play a trick on his mate Gennaro, which must have been partly pre-planned. But the reaction to the gag (he'd wiped chilli juice round the rim of the shot glass he gave him for a toast) was authentic, as was the way both men corpsed with laughter afterwards. Should you be seeking cookery tips the advice this time round was to pull your roast potatoes out of the oven halfway through and give them a gentle compression with an old potato masher, thus maximising the all-important spud-roasting surface interface. The best tip I gleaned from the Hairy Bikers was not to watch next year.