The BBC has been told to make more ‘British’ TV shows. Here are some suggestions

What counts as an ‘iconic’ bit of British programming in 2021 is absolutely anybody’s guess, of course

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Sunday 19 September 2021 10:06 BST
Trailer for BBC TV show Wanderlust

A few scheduling difficulties then over at the Department of Culture War, Media and Sport. Yesterday its ministers were at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention, setting out their latest plans for how to wreck the BBC, which no sooner had they been typed up by the members of the media present than the people saying them had lost their jobs.

How seriously we are meant to take John Whittingdale’s gloriously silly proposals to, for example, change the law to force the BBC and ITV to make “British” programmes is not clear, given he has now been sacked within 24 hours of making said proposals. But given his now former department is now the plaything of notorious ostrich anus eater Nadine Dorries, it would be rash to imagine things are going to take a turn toward general sanity any time soon.

The proposals are, naturally, fully mad. So that “UK voices” are not lost in the global rush toward streaming content, the BBC and indeed others would be compelled to produce “distinctively British” programmes. There’s no point in wondering where you even start with this, other than to point out that British television, as made by the BBC, ITV and everywhere else has been doing more than just fine for a very long time indeed. Not merely with regard to the creation of most of the world’s most successful TV formats, like Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? and so on and so on and so on. Top Gear was such an international success that, for a while, Matt Le Blanc thought it was a good idea to host it.

Whittingdale, naturally, is short of actual ideas, beyond the vague notion that programmes have to be more British. They must be “iconic not generic”. The way to promote Britishness around the world is, we must assume, to give them more Downton Abbey.

What counts as an “iconic” bit of British programming in 2021 is absolutely anybody’s guess but may we offer the following suggestions.

A Very British Pandemic

Sci-fi thriller based loosely on the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller Contagion. But to make it more British, when the deadly virus breaks out, the absurd, performatively posh prime minister orders no one to contact him and retreats to his country house for a full week to finalise his divorce so he can marry a work colleague 25 years his junior. The killer disease is first ignored, then eventually belittled, and then it’s far too late. Tens of thousands of people die needlessly. All very British.

A Place In No Sun

Fun, aspirational holiday home show, with uniquely British spin in that the contestants all voted to prevent themselves being able to move abroad but didn’t realise until it was too late. Kirstie Allsopp tries to keep the mood upbeat, while dragging a depressed couple round neglected seaside towns, as they view dilapidated bungalows that they can’t afford anyway, before whipping out the iPad and showing them what they could have bought for the same money in Spain if they hadn’t voted to entirely fist themselves for absolutely no reason.

Jamie Oliver’s Neverending Food Journey

Just like the great man’s adventures through Mexico and Italy, but this time Jamie drives round Britain in an original 1959 Mini (before the company was bought by the Germans) in search of traditional British food, and it never ends because there isn’t actually any to be found. At first he wanders the streets of London, studiously avoiding every Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, French, Spanish and, well, every single restaurant there, including, somewhat awkwardly, the ones that bear his own name. Eventually, at the end of around 10,000 hours of programming, he sits down in a pie and mash shop that’s recently relocated to Ilford and sinks his fork into a very hard meat pie, swimming in “liquor”, which, while holding back tears of pure exhaustion, he explains to the viewers is actually the leftover stewing water from boiled eels served in jelly.

Ready, Steady, Don’t Cook

Ainsley Harriott valiantly tries but ultimately fails to fill the 20 minutes of air time in which lovable TV chefs would have cooked a meal from ingredients brought in by contestants, had the supermarket shelves not all been empty for the last three months, again for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Would I Lie To You?

Popular British panel show but made more British for international audiences by appointing the actual prime minister as team captain. Producers warn the central jeopardy of the show may be lost, as soon as episode three, when viewers work out said team captain is actually biologically incapable of saying anything that isn’t a lie. But this reassuring repetition, featuring mainly nonsense words and a bloated and ridiculous central character make it a surprise hit among toddlers, whose parents notice it has a remarkably calming influence if shown before bedtime.

Gogglebox International

Tried and tested fly-on-top-of-the-TV format, but where international viewers are filmed as they watch the government’s new “distinctively British” programmes. Used primarily as a comforting sleep aid for lonely people.

Love Ireland

Fly-on-the-wall Office-style documentary, set in the Irish passport office as it is continually swamped by applications from “distinctively British” people, desperate not to be British anymore.

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