Last Night's TV: Celebrity Come Dine with Me, Channel 4
Undercover Boss, Channel 4
Victorian Pharmacy, BBC2
Friday 16 July 2010
Not entirely atypically, I think I may have spoken too soon. Having been certain, last time I watched, that the cultish car crash that is Come Dine with Me was past its sell-by date, I find myself wallowing in its sheer dreadfulness once again. In a good way, obviously. Last night was a celebrity special, something that used to be a more rubbish version of the normal one, but increasingly has assumed a whole new gory life of its own. God knows why, exactly, they had chosen this particular constellation – Janice Dickinson (likes to call herself the world's first supermodel), Calum Best (football offspring and nightclub faller-out) and Jeff Brazier (used to go out with Jade Goody) – though, oddly, I recognised all of them. This doesn't usually happen on reality TV, does it? I only know them from other reality TV, of course, which does rather open up the possibility of a weird, post-celebrity kind of notoriety-slash-fame. Do a reality show, get famous, do more. Actually, this isn't true of Sam Fox, who was there too. She sang, didn't she? And got her you-know-whats out for Page 3 ("an institution," she said "just a picture in a family newspaper of a girl with a pretty pair of boobs and a nice smile").
Anyway, there they were: Jeff, Calum ("Golum? Cullen?" squawked Janice), Janice and Sam doing what they might do best, for all we know, though certainly don't do particularly well. Which is to say normal, social domesticity. Jeff was the first one to host the others. His nightmare guest, we learned, would be... hmmm, how about someone horribly self-obsessed?
Had Janice needed a cue for her arrival, this would have been it. She didn't, though – you've seen America's Next Top Model, haven't you? Dickinson's particular brand of faux-outrageous is starting to get a little old, a fact not lost on Calum/Golum/Cullen, whom, inexplicably, she spent the entire week trying to hit on. Calum, incidentally, doesn't know what mascarpone is.
Jeff's dinner was OK, as it turned out: moules marinière (Calum claimed he'd never heard of this one either) followed by risotto with mozzarella ("I love cheese," mused Jeff, winningly), and a Stavros Flatley performance. Janice dry-humped one of the dancers, and then off they all went home. From there, I'm afraid, it was downhill. Janice's evening saw her lay into Sam for taking her top off at age 16; Calum's ended in drunken rows. Sam's, well, Sam's wasn't so bad, in fact. Not that she won. Calum and Jeff did, jointly. Sam woz robbed, I say.
It's the second series of Undercover Boss, the programme where executives go undercover to find out how their company could Do Better in These Difficult Times. It's recession telly at its most depressing, and last night it was David Clarke of Best Western doing the honours. He was working first at the White House in Watford and then at the Ullesthorpe Court Hotel and Golf Club in Leicestershire. Neither lived up to their names, the White House rather less so than Ullesthorpe.
It was all rather predictable and stage-managed. After all, in theory at least, David was taking quite a big risk in opening up his company on TV. In reality, I suspect things worked rather differently. As soon as the cameras start rolling, the damage-control operation began. There's no such thing as a perfect company, we were assured, repeatedly. And, indeed, Best Western proved it to be so, with sofa-swapping at the White House and a shortage of cleaning staff at Ullesthorpe. Inevitably, though, Best Western remained relatively unscathed, and Clarke came out of things rather positively.
A lot of medicine would contain opium, said Professor Nick Barber in Victorian Pharmacy. And marijuana, so he needed to be very careful indeed when selecting his ingredients. Sounds all right to me: I'll have some of the hard stuff, please. Except: that's not what he meant (duh!). He left out the opium and the weed and even the live earthworm (on which more to come) and stuck to the harmless herbs that resident historian Ruth Goodman gathered for him.
As well as herb gathering, Ruth was tasked with testing out Victorian hydrotherapy, which looked even worse than the modern version. (I had the misfortune of experiencing that not long ago. It consisted of roughly an hour at the end of an ultra-strong hosepipe spraying cold water. "Does it hurt?" my assailant asked, repeatedly. "Yes!" I cried. She laughed. It would, I think, pass as punishment in many parts of the world). Ruth's treatment consisted of lying in a bed swaddled in wet sheets for an hour each day. This, apparently, was a therapy enjoyed by Darwin and Florence Nightingale, though not by Ruth, who squealed at the slightest hint of wetness.
A lot of what we saw was pure quackery. The Victorians, see, didn't understand bacteriology so it was all about what they could see. Pharmacies would line up enormous colourful jugs full of glycerine and die in the hope of luring customers. Spitting phlegm into a communal basin was OK, since it meant you could see it coming out. Ditto blood-letting. Bruises, said the Prof, were treated with an unedifying mixture of earthworms boiled alive in olive oil with red wine. There was no reason whatsoever for this except for the fact that worms look a bit like bruises. Unlucky.
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