TV review: Something for Nothing, Channel 4
The Route Masters: Running London Roads, BBC2
"I've had treatments worth £5,000," said Jenny Townsend, one of Harry's Heroes in Something for Nothing. You get to be one of Harry's Heroes not by rescuing a comrade under withering Taliban fire or helping orphans in a developing world country, but by blagging stuff for free. Jenny had managed to score countless beauty treatments for nothing in return for offering her face and body as training material for beginners. And already the central concept of Something for Nothing was starting to strain a little.
First, there was the question of "worth". Those treatments weren't actually "worth" that much, Jenny, that was just the inflated price people are prepared to pay. Then there was the notion of "free". Among the non-monetary bills Jenny had ended up paying was several weeks of acute social embarrassment after a haircut didn't go quite as she'd planned. Never mind. She seemed happy and undaunted: "Hopefully, I'll be having a chemical peel next," she said, beaming broadly. Oh yes, that's just the kind of procedure you'd want a novice to perform, Jenny. Having someone apply acid to your face.
Harry, for whom Jenny was a hero, was presenter Harry Wallop, who's set himself the challenge of seeing what he can get for free and passing on the tips to us. And not all of them were nonsense. If you're willing to offer yourself as a guinea pig to apprentices, you can get your haircuts for free, for example, and he also explored a new craze called "swishing", which turned out to be considerably less exciting than it sounded, but did offer a means of realising the dead capital locked up in all those unworn clothes in your wardrobes (it's clothes-swapping, basically). Other tips consisted of the kind of freebies that are only really accessible if a limited number of people know about them, an exclusivity that Harry seemed determined to undermine. You might be able to get yourself on the list for a restaurant's soft opening, for example, but if even one per cent of Something for Nothing's viewers act on the information it contained, places are going to be scarce.
You couldn't help but wonder, too, how helpful it is to have a camera crew in tow, an expensive accessory that has a positively magical effect when some chancer turns up asking for free pizzas and beer, as Harry did when he set out to organise a completely free party. "If you don't ask, you don't get," he said cheerfully after yet another local supplier had graciously chipped in. And if you try the same thing without the backup of a television commission, I'm guessing that more often than not you don't get, either. My hero, incidentally – summing up the odd surrender of agency that accompanies the something-for-nothing philosophy – was Jane Willis, an obsessive comper who appeared to enter competitions whether she wanted the prize or not. Among her booty were a condom wallet and a pair of remote-control vibrating panties. Jane did not look as if she had much time for either.
The Route Masters: Running London Roads was a profile of the systems that keep London traffic flowing. It had some problems as an hour-long film, since watching people trying to untangle traffic jams turns out to be only marginally more interesting than actually sitting in them. Even the Vauxhall helicopter crash, perhaps the most dramatic snarl-up in recent years, was reduced to men looking anxiously at tailbacks and saying things like, "Yeah, but if we do that it'll back up all the way to the Camberwell New Road."
But it was saved by its characters, including Indra, an ex-Gurkha member of the Incident Response team whose commitment to keeping London on the move included giving pedestrians a piggy-back through a flooded underpass, and Sean, who keeps watch on that sclerotic artery the Blackwall Tunnel from a cell-like Portakabin nearby. My kind of heroes.
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