Last Night's TV - Britain Goes Camping, BBC4; Britain by Bike, BBC4; Danielle Lineker: My New Stepfamily, BBC3

When everyone pitched in together

Reviewed,Tom Sutcliffe
Wednesday 21 July 2010 00:00 BST

I'd never encountered the word "glamping" before I watched Britain Goes Camping and I'm not entirely sure that I'm grateful to have been introduced. It's one of those portmanteau coinages that yokes two concepts together into a convenient shorthand, such as "Brangelina" or (more appropriately for BBC4's schedule last night) "staycation". Generally speaking, the two terms involved in these nasty verbal chimeras should either be mutually attractive (as must surely once have been the case with Brad and Angelina, whatever their feelings now) or at least mutally neutral. But it seems rather odd to blend two words – "glamorous" and "camping" – that repel each other like the opposite poles of a magnet. Perhaps that's why it sounds so ghastly. The two terms are struggling to spring apart, so that "glamour" can hightail it back to a VIP suite at a boutique hotel and "camping" can go and empty the chemical toilet. Until the divorce papers come through, though, "glamping" will remain in vogue, allowing the middle classes the opportunity to give their children a night under canvas without getting mud on their Hunter wellies.

Things have come full circle really because, as Britain Goes Camping revealed, abandoning the comforts of civilisation used to be a distinctly upmarket affair, accessible only to those who could afford to take time off work and get their tailor to run up a bespoke ridge tent and a customised tweed touring suit. It helped if you were actually a tailor yourself, naturally, as Thomas Hiram Holding, the father of modern British camping, was. Buoyed by the success of his book Cycle and Camp in Connemara, Holding founded the Association of Cycle Campers, which before long was providing the raw material for fetching sepia photographs of Edwardian gents lolling against each other under canvas. And from that point on camping was steadily and unstoppably democratised until it became – whisper it – just a tiny bit common.

This celebration of elective discomfort was never going to be the kind of programme to dwell on the social comedy of modern camping – the determination that people show to replicate their suburban life in the corner of some rainswept field. "You're really up close and personal with nature," said one enthusiast at the beginning, attempting to encapsulate the joy of the flysheet. In his case, it was actually true, since he camped in the wild, but for most people what you're up close and personal with are the people in the next tent, and their folding dining sets and portable tellies. That this delivered an enfranchising joy to many people was unquestionable. There was a lovely interview here with an 80-year-old man who still went camping with three generations of his family. But what it had to do with nature was a bit more debatable.

An aura of period nostalgia hung over Britain by Bike, too, in which Clare Balding follows in the tracks of another outward-bound pioneer, Harold Briercliffe, a passionate cyclist who wrote popular guides for cycle tours of Britain. Riding Briercliff's own bicycle (a Dawes Super Galaxy), Balding started in Devon, a challengingly corrugated bit of British landscape that delivers exhilarating free-wheels and diaphragm-busting climbs, one of which Balding dodged by taking advantage of Britain's longest cliff-railway. The charm of the enthusiast was conveyed not only by sepia-tinted shots of Briercliffe pedalling away, but by pretty much everyone Balding encountered, from the man who'd devoted three years of his life to building a scale model of antediluvian Lynmouth to the mine enthusiast who showed her round Combe Martin's silver mines. It was lovely, to be honest, guilelessly boosting the pleasures of the English countryside in the manner of a Shell poster from the Thirties (though I did detect a hint of modern knowingness when Balding got the giggles while describing "the Devil's Cheese Ring", a local rock formation that I think set her imagination running).

Danielle Lineker: My New Stepfamily was an unconvincing affair in which Gary Lineker's second wife explored the difficulties of modern parenthood. Part Hello! magazine special access (Gary and Danielle invited us into their lovely home), part social-issue documentary, it mostly suggested that Danielle had left it very late indeed to think hard about the challenge of taking on four teenage boys. Surely she should have been checking out the teenage advice websites and talking to other stepparents a couple of years ago rather than leaving it until a film crew turned up. I suspect she probably had, but the conventions of the "journey" documentary demanded that she pretend to learn lessons along the way and announce that she'd been changed by the experience. "It's been a learning curve," she dutifully announced at the end, but if so it was a pretty shallow one.

Her quest to discover the best way to relate to her acquired children also never found a way to acknowledge one possible source of awkwardness. When a friend had suggested that Lineker first go on a blind date with Danielle, he'd been reluctant. Eventually, with the help of his oldest son, George, he Googled "Danielle Lloyd, lingerie model" and was persuaded. "I left him to it," said George, hinting at the awkwardness of helping your dad to check out an internet hottie young enough to arouse your own interest. Teenage boys have a long-established way of relating to the lingerie models, but I don't think it's one that would help family dynamics.

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