If ever there was an example of a pun being chewed and chewed until it has lost all its original zest, like an hour-old stick of Juicy Fruit, then Mary, Queen of Charity Shops: Revisited was it. Programme titles are important and some producers don't think nearly hard enough about them.
The original pun was Mary, Queen of Shops, the title of a series in which retail panjandrum Mary Portas did for failing businesses what used to be called a John Harvey-Jones. While I greatly admired the series, and considered Portas altogether splendid, I never much cared for the title Mary, Queen of Shops. But at least it was identifiable as a pun on Mary, Queen of Scots. The reference was stretched to breaking point with Mary, Queen of Charity Shops, and Mary, Queen of Charity Shops: Revisited, is a programme title nobody should be made to say out loud.
Now that I've got that off my chest, what of the content? It was billed as Portas returning to the previously under-performing Save the Children shop in Orpington, Kent, now restyled a Living and Giving shop, to see whether her reforms of a year ago were still yielding hugely increased takings. But I'd guess that two-thirds of the programme was footage shown last year, which was a bit sneaky of the BBC. "Mary, Queen of Charity Shops: Repeated" would have been more accurate, given the limited amount of fresh material, although Portas in her redoubtable bossy-boots way did come up with a new scheme to encourage younger volunteers over the thresholds of the nation's charity shops. The average age of charity-shop volunteers is currently about double the average age of high-street shop assistants, early seventies as opposed to mid-thirties. That, she contended, has to change if these places are to shed their fusty image.
She's right, and the spectacle of the young and hip working cheerfully alongside the old and replacement hip proved it. Portas then told us that her triumphs in the charity-shop arena have thrilled her even more than her work with "Harvey Nicks", and good for her. I've liked the cut of her jib ever since I first saw her on television, and if I thought I could find a jib cut like hers in my local Oxfam shop, I'd be straight down there. In fact, there's a fair chance now that Mary has helped to improve the content with her "D-Day" campaign, exhorting the public to "Donate, Don't Dump". Her "D-Day" sign is indeed prominent in my local Oxfam shop, and any idea that finds its way from the busy South-east to where I live in sleepy north Herefordshire is plainly an idea with legs.
Heaven knows where the Iron Chef idea gets its legs from. A camped-up version of MasterChef, it has somehow migrated from the Far East to America and now to the UK, where our host is Olly Smith, a man who in search of an image appears to have been told to imagine the grown-up Billy Bunter teaching in a prep school. I know an animal behavioural expert who counsels the owners of particularly yappy dogs to spray water in their faces every time they bark, and I thought of him as I watched chubby-cheeked Smith shout his way through Iron Chef UK. A regular zap of water would calm him right down.
In fairness, though, he might be just the over-the-top presenter Iron Chef UK needs, for it is not a show that can afford to take itself the least bit seriously. The idea is that one leading chef, preferably with Michelin stars, must cook four dishes in the time that four challengers cook just one each. This is introduced as a kind of culinary form of ju-jitsu, presided over by a mysterious Eastern fellow known as "The Chairman", and it's quite as daft as it sounds, although behind the martial arts puns – I liked the idea of "morsel combat" – it's really just MasterChef in a high-speed blender.
If that sounds unpalatable, I should add that there are some nice touches. The chef Nick Nairn provides an enlightening commentary as well as a more sensible foil to the Bunteresque Smith, and it could even be that for all the camp flourishes, Iron Chef UK offers more useful tips for cooks than MasterChef. Incidentally, I recently had dinner at Smiths of Smithfield, run by MasterChef's own John Torode, and I have to say that in his own competition two of the three courses I had wouldn't have even limped through round one.
The exception was a very decent steak and chips, and beef was the main ingredient in last night's Iron Chef UK – "beeftastic!" cried Smith, with no one to squirt water in his face. Not, of course, that 5pm strictly qualifies as "night". It's a strange time to schedule the show, although, on the other hand, children will probably love it.
My own kids caught a little of the second episode of the three-part drama Five Daughters, and I hope that they saw enough to realise the deadly effects of drugs, for it was drug dependency that led those young women into prostitution on the streets of Ipswich, which in turn cost them their lives at the hands of the serial killer Steve Wright. My colleague Tom Sutcliffe reviewed Five Daughters at length yesterday, so I won't add much, except to say that it is cleverly conceived, well-written (by Stephen Butchard) and quite brilliantly acted.Reuse content