Last Night's Viewing: Jennifer Saunders: Back in the Saddle, ITV1
Such a pea-souper is the post-Olympic fog that we find ourselves in that we end up mourning the passing of that Great Sporting Event with programming such as this, a two-part investigation into the early-life equestrian talents of a comedian more usually known for mocking the establishment than jumping on its back and riding it around a gymkhana.
Don't get me wrong, the Olympics left me with a newly kindled interest in dressage and show-jumping. I loved the juxtaposition of a poker-backed toff sitting on top of an animal doing the soft-shoe shuffle. It struck me as a metaphor for society, and I didn't half want to know how on earth you train them.
Watching Jennifer Saunders: Back in the Saddle, I didn't really find out. But I did see enough to want to have a little go myself. Saunders, once a keen if slightly wimpy rider during her girlhood, has decided to try again – as the programme's tagline so winningly and literally suggests – and she has invited some cameras to follow her as she does so. Saunders related her relationship with riding from Pony Club to show-jumping, dwelling particularly on her Olympic hopes, as she trundled through country lanes belting out "Puppy Love", while deep in reverie that she and Topaz would be discovered and recruited for Team GB. Never mind the fact that she keeps on telling us how scared she was of jumping and how she only really liked going for said trundles.
It strikes me that this is the only thing anyone really likes about riding. Clopping along on rolling haunches and admiring the views is a lovely way to get around; being jounced and joggled about as your steed doggedly vaults over a raggedy looking old maypole is far less fun. Still, this is ITV1 and reverie won't do – the audience needs drama, fear, adrenaline and a climax.
They didn't get one here. For a programme that promised thundering hooves and the nobility of woman and beast conjoined in ambitious purpose, the credits and ad break screens looked like a condolence card, and the slow-motion montages set to a Richard Clayderman-esque soundtrack were nigh-on unbearable. I felt like I was being shown some tranquil film stills to distract me and ease my transition to the afterlife while someone – Saunders perhaps – gave me a lethal injection.
Despite the bleeped-out expletives and cheeky asides, Saunders was given a confectionery box of a script that could only ever have appealed to little girls or grannies – and surely (please, somebody back me up on this) what the Olympics proved this summer was that things previously categorised as niche or a bit weird have much further reach than their most obvious demographics. Here was a potentially captive national audience who wanted insight into that world, and what did they get? Jenny, who has run the Cheshire Pony Club for 35 years, telling a little girl off for having loose hair.
The pros provided rather more edifying views. "A horse needs respect, not love," declared rider Tim Stockdale, who recently broke three vertebrae, presumably for giving his horse a box of chocolates rather than a fist-bump. Saunders looked anxious. We will have to wait until next week to find out how she does in her ambition to participate in the Badminton Grassroots Championship, but at least – after donating an hour of our lives – this programme offered one big reveal: what Princess Anne's voice is actually like.
Saunders met the Princess Royal during an event she was holding in her rather extensive back garden. "The thing you need to remember about horses is that they always have the potential to kill you," HRH told her, sounding for all the world like the Queen after she's been on the fags. Saunders looked even more anxious. "I wish I'd never agreed to do this," she breezed. Me too, Jennifer, me too.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove