Take two (fame) hungry young cooks, add cameras to the mix and combine with a hefty dollop of subterfuge. Turn up the heat – and the pressure – by adding a Michelin-starred chef, a sprinkling of actors and finish with a surprise ending. If you've followed this recipe to the letter you'll end up with the first episode of Secret Interview, a show where unwitting professionals compete for a "dream job" with an "inspirational" new boss.
The twist is that the would-be dream-job seekers don't know that they're competing – they think they're being filmed for a documentary, when instead they are being scrutinised by a leading industry figure. At the end of a week and after completing four tests, the one who has been most successful in their secret "interview" is offered a position by said figure.
Jason Atherton was the name this week, while following episodes will see Glamour's editor, Jo Elvin, judge fashion-promo organisers, Nicky Clarke size up hairdressers and "property tycoon" Kevin Green (me neither) assess estate agents. So far, so MasterChef meets Candid Camera meets Punk'd meets The Apprentice. The result made for compelling – if often uncomfortable – viewing. Young chefs Rob (from a restaurant in Bexleyheath) and Richard (from a posh pub in Bath) had to put up with heavy-handed actors throwing them curveballs. Think pretend apprentices who don't know their spatulas from their whisks, ersatz restaurant critics scribbling in notebooks, difficult customers and inept waitresses – all while Big Brother Jason is watching from afar. There was swearing (from the chefs), wincing (from Atherton, who tried for the intensity of Michel Roux Jnr but didn't have the madness about the eyes) and cringing (from me, behind my fingers).
It was quite a confection and it didn't always go down smoothly. Why these two particular chefs? The programme-makers had, apparently, "sifted through the UK and shortlisted two outstanding culinary candidates". Sounds rather undercooked to me. Why was Michelin-starred Atherton involved? To find "the best of the best". Not to raise his media profile like a successful soufflé. Oh no. But for all the lumps, by the time the contestants were summoned to Atherton's Pollen Street Social after their trials by fire, it was hard not to care who got the top spot. Because despite their initial bish bash bosh sound bites – Rob's "these bananas are the bollocks" and Richard's wish to make food that will "spank your tastebuds" – you found yourself rooting for these young men, despite the dishonest and often unappetising premise.
Speaking of chaps in their prime, the daring young men in their flying machines that appeared in Jet! When Britain Ruled the Skies were almost as impressive as the aircraft that they piloted. As James Hamilton-Paterson, author of Empire of the Clouds, said at the start of this thrilling documentary about Britain's post-war supremacy in military aviation, "It was glamour! Sheer damn glamour". Despite austerity and a country that was blitzed, bombed and poor, the decades between the 1940s and the 1960s were a golden age of engineering – and a golden age of Britain and bravery long gone. The test pilots who flew the first jets, in the words of one of the show's talking heads, "were household heroes – the F1 drivers of their day".
Jet! gracefully charted the heights to which engineering climbed in the form of the V-bombers and the all-conquering Harrier Jump Jet, as well as the nosedives – when the Government sold its Rolls-Royce engines to the Soviet Union, which used them in its Migs, to cuts to the once-sacrosanct RAF. It also celebrated the quiet professionalism of pilots who flew aircraft without ejector seats and, during the 1950s, were responsible for the nuclear weapons their planes carried. Without, I note, the lure of a documentary about their prowess to tempt them. It's a long-gone Britain.
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