Last Night's TV - High Street Dreams, BBC1; Wormwood Scrubs, ITV1; Coronation Street, ITV1
When a loving spoonful pays off
Tuesday 11 May 2010
Imagine that your name is Mr Singh. You and six other members of your family have a small commercial operation based in your garden shed, making hot chilli sauce from a recipe handed down by your father. Then along comes the BBC and offers you some help with branding, not to mention an hour of primetime telly exposure. All of which seems too good to be true, until the marketing experts recruited by the Beeb suggest changing the name of your sauce to Singh for Your Supper. Luckily, that's not their only suggestion. Another one is Seven Singhs. These are experts? At least they don't add "if you'll pardon the pun-jabi", although they almost certainly would have done if they'd thought of it. Mercifully, there is a third suggestion: Mr Singh's Hot Chilli Sauce. This you fall upon like a hungry man on a chicken jalfrezi. Mr Singh's Hot Chilli Sauce, everyone agrees, is the best name for a hot chilli sauce made by Mr Singh.
Of course, in marketing the simplest ideas are the best, with the exception of the most original ideas, which are also sometimes the best. What are rarely the best are the most derivative ideas. Only in television does money get thrown at the most derivative ideas, of which High Street Dreams is the latest. It is Dragons' Den meets The Apprentice meets Mary, Queen of Shops, with Nick Leslau, a property tycoon, cast as a kind of benign Alan Sugar, and Jo Malone, the perfume queen, a scented Mary Portas.
Malone's involvement makes sense; her retail empire started in her garden shed, just as Mr Singh hopes that his will. I'm less sure about Leslau. He is worth a shedload of money, but as far as I know, that is his only relevance, shedwise. Incidentally, I once stayed in the same hotel as him – a brand-new swanky place in Cyprus – and we spent some time chatting by the pool. I liked him, but watched with amusement as he and his fellow multi-millionaires led a kind of mini-insurrection against the hotel management, for what they felt was a slipshod operation, not worth the five-star prices. It was the French Revolution in reverse, with velvet barricades.
Anyway, I suppose the point is that Leslau has high standards, and he's not going to support a product he doesn't believe in. Last night, he mentored Roland and Miranda, a posh young couple from Worcestershire who make fancy beef burgers. They got the branding treatment too, and as they got closer to realising their dream of a place on the supermarket shelves you could cut the tension with a wooden spoon. Of course, they were going to get a chance to make a pitch; why else were we watching? They made theirs to Waitrose, while the Singhs pitched to Asda. And what do you know, they both got the thumbs-up. Unsurprisingly, they were ecstatic. I should introduce them to some people I know who supply a supermarket chain with cider; their profit margins are squeezed more than their apples. It's all very well having high-street dreams, but you should be careful what you wish for. Still, I couldn't begrudge them their excitement. As the marketing experts would no doubt say, Singh while you're winning.
Next week, it's the turn of toy-makers to be taken under the wings of Leslau and Malone, and speaking of wings, if the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs applied their ingenuity to making toys rather than weapons, we could have a whole new series. In the meantime, what we have is Wormwood Scrubs, a two-part documentary that would put a frown on the face of the Laughing Policeman, and does GBH to the hopeful notion that prisons are houses of rehabilitation. The Scrubs, if this programme is anything to go by, and we must presume it is, amounts to a massive exercise in damage-limitation.
Confiscating weapons is one way of limiting damage, and what weapons they are. A toothbrush with two razor blades melted into the end looked like the nastiest slice of improvisation you'd ever seen, until you saw another one studded with five razor blades. Overseeing this grim regime is the governor, Phil Taylor. His namesake, the world darts champion, is nicknamed The Power, but it would be singularly inappropriate in the case of this Phil Taylor, because power seems to belong to the inmates. There was no questioning the governor's social conscience – the prisoners, he said, are "really difficult people to work with... all the more reason why we should work with them" – but he couldn't stop his prison looking like a branch of hell.
Drugs, more than anything else, are what make it so hellish. And the warders can't keep them out. They can't even find all the mobile phones, which are vital conduits in the prison drugs trade, and like all other illicit belongings, are hidden up the rectum. It's called plugging, and I'd make a joke about it if only I could find the will.
In Coronation Street, Tracy was let out of prison for a few hours to attend the funeral of her grandmother, Blanche. Prison life has not rehabilitated Tracy any more than it has the recidivist inmates of Wormwood Scrubs, and she was soon spitting poison, which I suppose was a more fitting way of marking Blanche's interment than a cream tea. Deirdre, meanwhile, got misty-eyed remembering Tracy's baptism in the same church. That was back in the days of Annie Walker, who wore pink and looked, according to Blanche, like Barbara Cartland with a slow puncture. Happy days.
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