Could there be a sweeter confection to put before a TV audience than Mary Berry: Secrets From Britain’s Great Houses?
I mean, it has everything. It has secrets. It has stately homes. It has secrets in stately homes: I can’t be the only one who thinks immediately of Lady Mary humping that Turk to death at Downton. It has a zeitgeisty smack of Britishness. It has Mary Berry.
I was delighted by last week’s announcement that the three women regulars from The Great British Bake Off have all been given new shows to present.
Quite right too. Those women are intensely watchable; they all have stardust about them. Mary Berry is clearly a shimmering gem and has been lauded as such ever since she was rediscovered and relaunched as Bake Off’s glamorous granny.
Less so with Melanie Giedroyc and Sue Perkins; it annoyed me for years that, while everyone talked constantly about Mary and Paul, nobody seemed to mention Mel and Sue. They were just there, like the trees and the food mixers. When TV reviewers raved about the series, the tent got mentioned more often than the presenters.
It wasn’t until Mel and Sue announced their retirement from Bake Off (after its shock departure from the BBC this summer) that people openly discussed – perhaps even realised for the first time – how vital to the show’s success was their particular blend of wit and charm.
So, I am delighted they all have new shows. One feels sorry for Paul Hollywood, who’s probably backed the wrong horse. I’ve met Paul Hollywood a few times and he seems like a really nice man, plus he’s very good on TV. The kicking he’s had, just for sticking nervously with the series rather than the channel, is ridiculous. It’s only light entertainment, it’s not Aleppo.
Besides, if Paul Hollywood had remained part of the Fab Four, we might have been denied the new projects that the remaining women are launching individually. They sound amazing, as if a board game had been constructed in which the squares were “things people like”, the counters were Mary, Mel and Sue, and programmes were created according to which counter happened to land where.
Mary Berry clearly landed on the Downton Abbey square. Sue Perkins got “Indian travel”, hence the forthcoming three-parter in which Perks goes up the Ganges.
Mel Giedroyc must have rolled a double, landing on both “talent contest” and “Gary Barlow”, resulting in Let It Shine, a talent contest in which Gary Barlow tries to cast a West End musical based on the hits of Take That.
It probably sounds like I’m taking the mickey. But I’m not; this might be an excellent way of making television. In the book world, my own late father did the exact same thing.
In 1975, my father looked up the most popular subjects in Britain – those about which people were most likely to buy books – and put them together to create an irresistible lure for readers. The result was Golfing for Cats, a book with a swastika on the front.
“Even more books about fishing have been sold than books about golf,” he wrote, “but Fishing for Cats, conjuring up as it did the image of someone leaning over a bridge with a mouse on the end of a string, stretched, I felt, ambiguity to an intolerable limit.”
My father would have liked Mary Berry: Secrets From Britain’s Great Houses. As will we all.
I simply do not understand why all culture isn’t constructed like this. Why should the invention of new things be any more complicated than simply identifying the things we already like and then jamming them together? Any other approach is spitting in the eye of the paying public. An insult to democracy. A refusal to respect the will of the people.
Here are my pitches for the television of 2017.
Dancing with Antiques
Former Strictly judge Len Goodman whirls round the floor at Blackpool with a series of baroque console tables, 18th-century armoires and old chess sets, steering them elegantly through the samba and the Viennese waltz while audience members shout bids for the items and their owners look disappointed.
The Queen Gets a Hatchimal
As monarch, the Queen is able to get her hands on the otherwise sold-out “must-have” toy of Christmas 2016. In this observational documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Her Majesty nurses the Hatchimal into life and tends it carefully, occasionally asking “Is this it?”, “But what does it actually do?” and “Two hundred quid online, you say?”
Show Me the Way to Go Foam
Over the course of this simple, nine-part recipe series, underdog football heroes Leicester City teach us how to make eight different flavoured coffees. In week one, it’s gingerbread latte. Week two is butterscotch frappuccino. Week three is mocha mochaccino. Week four is chocolate mojitoccino. Week five is macchiato with Skittles spilt in it by mistake. Week six is eggnogspresso. Week seven is “A-berry-cano”. Week eight is Nescafé. Week nine is just a recap of the previous weeks. “We all love home-cooked food,” says Jamie Vardy. “Sometimes we just have to remember to stop, take the time and actually make it.”
Ant and Dexit
The lovable Geordie presenters debate the pros and cons of triggering article 50. Staunch Remainer Ant is in favour of a more gradual move in that direction. Dec’s fury at his moaning comedy partner’s refusal to respect the mandate nearly brings the pair to blows!
Bear Grylls’ Dog Hospital
The rugged survivalist nurses lovable ailing canines back to health, but then, when he gets hungry, eats them.
Up All Night to Get Lucario
Harry Styles plays Pokémon Go.
Mrs Patmore’s Goal of the Month