Last Night's TV - Made in Britain, BBC2; James May’s Things You Need to Know, BBC2; Dinner Date, ITV1

Britain’s still got talent
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The Independent Culture

You can have too much of a good thing, and while most of us probably agree that Evan Davis is a good thing, waking up with him on Radio 4 and winding down with him on BBC2 might be considered excessive. Perhaps he should apply his own economic acuity to the question: is the market flooded with Evan Davis?

Still, with Made in Britain, he continues, as both writer and presenter, to fly the flag for thought-provoking, intelligent programming, though I confess my brain cells could have done with an easier ride at the end of a long day, as what set out as a celebration of Britain’s enduring manufacturing prowess took a long diversion to China and concluded with the observation that, good as we have become at cornering niche markets, we need to do more of it to plug the export gap.

On the whole, he took an optimistic view of the future and even of the present, asserting that as we get better at manufacturing, so we need fewer people to do it, and the job losses that inevitably ensue are a sign of success rather than failure. In the last three decades, Britain has lost three million manufacturing jobs, but that, as Davis sees it, is a symptom of progress, not malaise. I expect there were quite a few households around the country where some issue was taken with all this, and possibly even expletives or slices of pizza hurled at the telly, but he ploughed on benignly, citing a clothing company called Berwin & Berwin, which 10 years ago had to close its factory in Leeds, with many redundancies, but by setting up a manufacturing base in China has seen a tenfold increase in turnover.

This, he asserted, perhaps a little disingenuously assuring us that most of the laid-off employees have since found other jobs, is good not only for Berwins but also for Britain. And he went to China, home of seven of the world’s 10 busiest ports, to explain that we should “never confuse volume with value”. It is helpful for our economy, apparently, for stuff to be made much more cheaply in China and then imported, freeing up our industrialists and entrepreneurs to tackle more sophisticated projects, such as those to produce pilotless planes and driverless cars. Davis then dropped in on the HQ |of the McLaren Formula One operation in Surrey, where the company is making a new road car that retails for almost £170,000, yet can barely keep up with demand.

Coincidentally, I visited McLaren myself last week, and to be sure it is a place to make you proud of that “Made in Britain” label, if also a place to make you embarrassed about your scuffed shoes. The place positively gleams, and it is certainly the only factory I’ve ever visited with a dress code, albeit not the dress code I was initially told about. “No jeans or trousers” came a stern email from the CEO’s secretary a few days beforehand. It turned out she meant no jeans or trainers. Reluctantly, I abandoned my plans to rent a kilt.

Anyway, Made in Britain was an eloquent counterblast to the notion that, economy-wise, we are going to hell in a handcart. If we are going to hell, we can at least expect to travel in an expensive sports car. Which brings me to James May, one of the Top Gear presenters, in whom the BBC seems to think they have a star, although I can’t for the life of me understand why.

In James May’s Things You Need to Know, he sat in what looked very much like Cyril Fletcher’s old leather wing chair from That’s Life!, and, addressing the camera as if it were a class of six-year-olds, ventured a few facts about the human body. For instance, we spend an average of 90 days of our lives “sitting on the lavvy”. And “the brain is a mind-bogglingly complex thing”. Gosh! Equally mind-boggling was the scheduling of this patronising rubbish at 10pm, when the nation’s primary schoolchildren were tucked up in bed. They might have enjoyed the studiedly jaunty animation, school of Terry Gilliam circa 1970, and might also have warmed to May’s Jackanory-style delivery from his wing chair. But as a programme for grown-ups it was sorely lacking.

And so to Dinner Date, which actually is transmitted at a time when the nation’s primary schoolchildren can enjoy it, a clever piece of scheduling for another series that could be |interpreted as an insult to grown-up intelligence. And yet, while I’m not sure how or why it works, somehow it does. In yesterday’s show, this |hybrid of Blind Date and MasterChef had “24-year-old investment banking PA Christina” choosing three from five menus selected by would-be suitors, according to what most |tickled her fancy. She doesn’t like carrots and doesn’t like soup, which didn’t bode well for the carrot soup starter offered by “29-year-old property developer David”, but tempted by his white-chocolate pudding she pressed ahead with the date, only to find that he had a creepy habit of using her name at the end of every sentence, “as if he’s trying to remind me what I’m called”.

As the credits rolled, with me wondering why I had been so engaged by Dinner Date, it occurred to me that Evan Davis could add silly, trivial reality-TV shows to the list of products in which we still lead the world.