Last night's viewing - Hidden Talent, Channel 4

 

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The Independent Culture

What are your hidden talents? Mine are jumping and an inhuman tolerance for listening to inane football chat on BBC Radio 5 Live. One man good at punctuating that station's bursts of banality from Mike on the M23 is Richard Bacon, who used his excellent late-night show to fling himself back to the world of telly via the likes of, er, Richard Bacon's Beer & Pizza Club on ITV4. Bacon's latest outing is as the host of Hidden Talent on Channel 4, a show with a format that can't seem to decide whether it's flimsy or not. In it, 900 members of Her Majesty's Public were given a load of tests to work out if they have a heretofore unnoticed aptitude for, well, any old rubbish. The top performers in each category were then tasked with honing that talent and putting it to use.

Last night's skills were "Climbing" and "Lie Detection", which may be as arbitrary as "Jumping" and "Talk Radio Tolerance", but they led, in a roundabout way, to two lovely stories. (One wonders if Channel 4's own hidden talent is for subtle reality programming). Participant Maggie Reenan's aptitude for climbing (rocks, not society) was quickly noted and she was given the chance to be trained by an expert and to take on the jagged tyranny of the Old Man of Stoer, a 200ft-tall coastal rock stack in the Highlands. You wouldn't fancy it, to be honest. But Maggie's day job is as a nurse in a rapid-response unit, so when faced with abseiling down a vertical cliff her heart rate is handily samurai-calm.

What made Maggie's story endearing, though, and the thing that elevates Hidden Talent beyond a show that might otherwise be Woman Learns to Rock Climb, was the fact that since giving birth at 16 – and later training as a nurse – she's barely had a second to herself to think, let alone take up a hobby. With two more children (and grandchildren) and 14-hour hospital shifts to work, finding her Hidden Talent actually offered a more than welcome outlet. Watching her scale the Stoer was an unlikely great moment of telly.

Less serious was "retired boutique owner" Brenda who – I like this – appears to have honed her Hidden Talent by watching mothers lie to their daughters about liking their choice of wedding dress in her Milton Keynes bridal shop. The ability to spot a lie is one of the rarest skills in the world," explained Bacon as other would-be human polygraphs were put through their paces. But it was Brenda who was chosen to be packed off to Florida for some interrogation training from two ex-FBI officers who, with the names Joe Navarro and Jack Shafer, could scarcely be anything BUT ex-FBI officers. Brenda's natural body-language reading skills were honed by Jack and Joe with tips like, if people don't "I" a lot they're less committed to what they're saying and if people are reluctant to give a yes/no answer they're probably misleading you, too. Something for Today listeners to consider, there.

After the training, Brenda was taken to a warehouse to interrogate five suspected bag thieves (not real ones, sadly) and quickly transformed into, if not quite Sarah Lund, then at least June from The Bill, quickly nabbing the thief thanks to his twitchy shoulders.

Bacon's voiceover implied it was a life-changer: "Two months ago, Brenda was in retirement and bored." But while Maggie now has a hobby, and unless MI5 is short of interrogators, one wonders what use being an an expert lie-picker will be besides irritating her husband, John, when he fibs about having done the washing-up.

Hidden Talent is reminiscent of another sometimes inspiring Channel 4 doc, Faking It. It shouldn't work either – let's find someone who's good at trampoline and get them to trampoline! – but it's almost joyous. But maybe only Brenda will know if I mean that or not.

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