Who would have thought it, eh? Location, Location, Location: 10 years old this year. Kirstie and Phil, plugging away for more than a decade. To commemorate this most momentous of anniversaries, Channel 4 decided, in characteristically understated style, to put on a whole evening of Phil and Kirstie-themed fun. Overkill? Probably. But then, what else is on in this weird interim between Christmas and New Year? First up was blooper show Kirstie and Phil's Embarrassing Bits, then a bit revisiting some of their previous guests, and then the rather more sobering Phil and Kirstie's Homes for Heroes, which saw the twosome find houses for soldiers returning from service.
Quite what this final performance has to do with 10 years of Phil and Kirstie isn't clear – though it's a nice idea, doing nice things for deserving people, so let's not split hairs. Our first couple were Nick and Lekkie, both of whom served in Afghanistan until, one bleak day, Nick had his legs blown off. "Someone told me that he was 'very seriously injured'," recalled Lekkie. "That's the one before death, so it was a real shock to the system." These days Nick spends much of his time in physiotherapy, learning to operate his bionic legs. He plans to try out for the 2012 Paralympic team and, in the meantime, wants a domestic base of the sort unavailable during his years of touring with the Army. Of course, when you're missing two legs and still learning to use the new ones, house-hunting isn't the easiest of tasks: not only does Nick need a wetroom and space for wheelchair access, but he wants, understandably, a place that he can feel comfortable in, somewhere without nooks and crannies and hallways that he can't get to.
Nick and Lekkie weren't the only ones house- hunting. Jason and Elisa, an RAF commander and an ambulance driver, wanted a place to live too, as did Gail and Rick and their children. The former got their home, Elisa subsequently falling pregnant; the latter didn't. Nick and Lekkie, meanwhile, found themselves torn between a practical bungalow – no tricky stairs for Nick to negotiate – and an incredibly impractical cottage, which they both loved. Not to go for their preferred choice would, said Rick, be cowardly, a statement that reduced Kirstie to tears in a matter of minutes – a television first if ever there was one. Homes for Heroes wasn't particularly different from any other instalment of the sprawling P&K franchise, though it was, unusually, moving.
Of course Phil and Kristie weren't the only things on television (just the only thing on Channel 4). You couldn't really get a more perfect Christmastime drama than BBC 1's Toast. Joyfully nostalgic, wonderfully foodie, it cast Helena Bonham Carter, Ken Stott and Oscar Kennedy in the film adaptation of cook Nigel Slater's memoir, Toast: the Story of a Boy's Hunger.
Growing up in the 1960s, Slater got his first taste of the gourmet life when his parents' gardener offered him a slice of pork pie; despite his family's firmly middle-class sensibilities, theirs was not a kitchen stocked with goodies. On the contrary, his mother relied on toast to feed Nigel and his dad – one couldn't, observed Nigel, fail to love someone who gave you hot buttered toast. When he insisted, on one visit to the shops, that the family experiment with a tin of bolognaise sauce and some dried spaghetti, his parents took one bite and threw the rest out.
All that changed, though, when his beloved mother died. After a few desolate months of raw Fray Bentos pies shared with his dad in the deserted kitchen, Mrs Potter made an appearance – initially as the family's new cleaner, then as the new stepmother. Clad in gaudy florals, flashing her stocking tops with flirtatious abandon, she won Slater père's heart with her repertoire of lemon meringue pie, apple tart and roast chicken. Slater fils was another matter. Deploring her as too common and only interested in his dad for his money, he set about competing with Mrs Potter in all things house and home: he enrolled in a home economics course, brought scones and trifle to the table, and spied on his nemisis as she put together treats in the kitchen.
Bonham Carter, almost inevitably, was wonderful as the brittle, brash impostor: part vulnerable feeder, part grasping competitor. Stott, too, offered a masterful performance as the father who both terrorised and loved his son. But it was Kennedy and, later, Freddie Highmore as the young Nigel on whom the credibility of the drama relied. Happily, they both pulled it off with aplomb, Highmore in particular offering a sit-up-and-take-note performance. Written by Billy Elliot's screenwriter, Lee Hall, it wasn't a million miles away from the 2000 film: the direction contained a similar artfulness, the sets a comparable nostalgia. Slater, like young Billy, was shown as a young rebel, fighting for his right to enter a world alien to his parents and at odds with the expectations of his circumstances.
Amid the endless rotation of dishes, of creamy starters and frothy puddings, Slater's put-upon father keeled over, suffering heart complaints. It was the moment that freed young Nigel, who promptly packed up his case to begin life as we know him: the faultlessly comforting food writer.Reuse content