Mary Portas: pants to unemployment

Mary Portas has decided that as she is now the Queen of the High Street she will now turn her hand to reviving British manufacturing by creating a knicker factory in Middleton.

The Bottom Line , her new programme for Channel 4, brings together her passion for improving shopping with her need to understand people and isn’t as patronising as I thought it would be about the current employment situation in the UK. In fact she seems genuinely moved to want to change it all, and then realises that her small pants factory isn’t enough.

Portas has eight jobs to offer and is worried that not enough people will turn up for the roles. On the day only a mere 300 people turn up for the small number of positions available. Even if you would expect that most of these people wouldn’t be able to string a sentence together, the majority were normal people who would be a pleasure in the workplace just some of them had never attempted sewing before.

But once Portas had got her eight it became sort of Big Brother-esque as all the new employees got given a personality according to what Portas thinks about them. The main two are Lauren and Andrew.

Lauren is the wildcard choice who only got the job because Portas sees herself in her, whilst everyone else seems to be seeing someone who doesn’t listen and isn’t prepared to learn. On the other hand we have Andrew, who is willing to learn and better himself for the sake of his son. It was an adorable sight to see a man, who looked hardly a day over 12, wearing his friend’s suit which was several sizes too big for him, talk about wanting to do this for his son. And unexpectedly Andrew was the best one at sewing in the whole group.

The problem with these types of shows is they would have been filmed months ago and part of the drama is knowing whether it will work out or not. This is slightly spoilt by the fact that you can go and buy the pants right now if you wish. But saying that it is a good show and optimistic about the talent of the unemployed people in Britain and wanting to do something about it, rather than ignoring it.

Catch up on 4OD or watch the show on Thursday, 9pm on Channel 4.

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding returns

Whether you love it or loathe it, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is must see television. Whilst the show was on we collected people’s thoughts, jokes and comments on the show.

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    They look like two quality street wrappers. #gypsywedding
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    I’m a pineapple and she’s a palm tree #gypsywedding
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    #gypsywedding

    I just saw a load of sparks coming out of the back of a caravan.

    I think it’s a big fat gypsy, welding⚡

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    #gypsywedding now I have seen it all a 10 tier cat cake!!! Oh polystyrene tiers yum yum!
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    I hate it when the gypsy girls put on the same outfit as what I was planning to wear #gypsywedding
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    the dresses on #gypsywedding.. oh.my.god
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    “The priest gave me the body of Christ …. I’ve got Jesus in me mouth” good lord … #gypsywedding
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    Gypsy wedding just gets better and better….’I didn’t want flowers on my dress, I decided I wanted a cat.’ Haha #gypsywedding
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    The irony of spending thousands of pounds to look so painfully cheap… #gypsywedding
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    False tanning yourself for God. Only in #gypsywedding would hear that!!
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    How Big Fat Gypsy Weddings changed the face of Channel 4… bit.ly/ztZRTz #bgfw
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All I want for Christmas is lots of television

As we are only seven weeks away from Christmas Day it is time to speculate about what will be on our television screens for the big day and look at some of the highlights so far.

The BBC has the usual big players with the Strictly Come Dancing special, Doctor Who  and a Top Gear special which this year is in India, according to Jeremy Clarkson.

ITV so far has been keeping most of its Christmas plans as secret as Santa’s naughty and nice list. All that is known so far is there will be a Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.

However, there are a few surprises slipped away in our seasonal stocking. Channel 4 will be showing what Gypsy King, and Big Brother winner, Paddy and his family do at Christmas and of course some snowy weddings take place as well.

There is the usual fill of cookery and craft programmes with Jamie’s Christmas, River Cottage Christmas and Gordon’s Christmas Cook-a-long Live just on Channel 4 alone, with Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Britain series, which is on at the moment, culminating with two Christmas themed specials.

The BBC’s big drama adaptations include a three-part special of Great Expectations and The Borrowers, with Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood and Christopher Eccleston. Whilst ITV has Lawrence Fox in the depressing sounding Christmas drama Fast Freddie, The Widow and Me, which follows a car salesman who is found guilty of drink driving. Channel 4 has a yuletide edition of This is England 88.

And Christmas would not be complete with a good laugh, the Beeb has a Christmas edition of most of its big comedy series such as QI, Rev, Mock the Week and Outnumbered. But making another return is Absolutely Fabulous with a Christmas and New Year’s Day special.

Channel 4 has the, now well established, Big Fat Quiz of the Year hosted by Jimmy Carr, Chris Moyle’s Christmas Quiz as well as a Christmas and New Year edition of Alan Carr’s Chattyman.

However, my highlight will be the Aardman special. No Wallace and Gromit this year but there will be a 30 minute Christmas Eve special of Timmy Time.

Baking doesn’t get tougher than this

In Kirstie Allsopp’s attempt to be the homemade Goddess in her home she has now got competitive. She now wants to make pretty things but also win competitions with her prize goodies in Kirstie’s Handmade Britain.

However, in her eagerness she has forgotten that although she wants to win village baking competitions she has never made a scone in her life. So she gets friends in to teach her how to make jam, scones and eclairs in order to beat the local competition.

Although it was nice to see Kirstie getting excited and seeing her best efforts being appreciated as she came first and second in this week’s baking competitions it was disappointing in one respect — there wasn’t much to follow and try out yourself.

The fun of handmade shows is to see recipes, creations and come up with ideas but she was so focused with her entries for different categories in her competitions and if you don’t fancy putting your baked goodies up for judgement it does make it quite irrelevant.

But Kirstie’s sheer enthusiasm and fascination at a scone cooking is enough to watch the show on its own, she makes it sound as dramatic as Gregg Wallace bellowing “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this”.

Fresh comedy with Fresh Meat

Students starting their university lives might be tired as a format for drama and comedy but it still remains funny as Fresh Meat proved. Especially as what would be the best way to portray the cringe-worthy nature of the student life as to get it written by the people behind Peep Show.

So on the first night of university, living in some terrible home with people you don’t want to trust, like or might fancy already you inevitably end up in the pub. And then drinks lead to sex and bragging or lying about the sex afterwards.

Fresh Meat didn’t lead to anything new, unlike Campus which just lead to the beautifully bizarre.

However, there were some similarities as the English teachers in both series seem to be sleeping with their pupils. There was also some excellent one liners such as when confronting their housemate who wanted to party and didn’t gel with the rest of the house as much he was told the harsh truth that “the thing is we’re very Hufflepuff here. Wouldn’t you be happier in Slytherin?”

Some of my friends who are still experiencing the university life thought that it had tried too hard so wasn’t funny but from the perspective of someone who has just left university and can remember some of the God awful things that happened because of social interaction between young, drunken adults.

If it continues with the good lines and doesn’t become so embarrassing that it is not watchable anymore (like later series of Peep Show became) then all should be good.

Seven Dwarves reaches unexpected heights

When Channel 4 announced reality television series Seven Dwarves it did feel like we were going to get a show like Big Fat Gypsy Wedding mixed with the worst kind of programmes that Channel 5 has to offer. Instead we have a genuinely touching series filled with lovely, honest people and it doesn’t matter about their height.

Although it aimed to break through the presumptions and the stereotypes that dwarves have to deal with in fact you learn about some really interesting lives that are then thrown together each Christmas to play the comedy roles in panto season.

Taking one of the actors and looking at their lives in an in-depth manner each week, whilst also seeing the interactions with everyone else as well we learn more about them as the series develops.

In some respects it is like Big Brother as these larger than life characters have been brought together to be watched over such as Britain’s only dwarf drag queen act and a swimming world champion who has only just turned 21. In fact three of the participants have been best friends since they were young, two have started a relationship and although some of them may be new to showbiz they are all friends, not people who will stab them in the back once out of the house.

Although there are sad elements when the crew talk to family members when they delve into their family and being dwarves they have had a number of medical problems to contend with along with the usual ups and downs of life, overall it is amazing to just watch them like when they started doing bad Hitler impersonations.

The odd thing is being a dwarf does open all sorts of job opportunities. Most of the seven people featured are actors or performers but some have normal jobs in offices but come to the theatre each Christmas as one of the participants, Max, says to do the “hi ho shit” aka the panto season. Others come from acting legacy families who were ewoks and some are paid to dress up as Oompa Loompas and other amusing characters to follow stag night parties around.

So what started as an amusing idea actually became something quite touching and even though they are talking about their lives as dwarves in parts of the show it is not the focus. Whether that means it has succeeded or they just had genuinely interesting people to talk to I don’t know.

School’s out for Campus

Although old news by now as Channel 4 announced the decision to drop new comedy series Campus last month I still want to take the time to lament the loss of this great series.

To be honest when the show aired it was already losing the battle with the audience. The writers behind the show were responsible for Green Wing and there were expectations that it would be the same show but moved from a hospital to a university.

That was true to some extent as both series had characters that falling in and out of love and once realising their feelings sleeping with the wrong person, mad characters that make no sense and hapless characters.

However, Campus was darker and in some cases more miserable but if you were in on the joke then hilarious.

Watching this series at the tail end of my university career and seeing jokes like final grades being decided by a game of human archery was admittedly depressing, especially when floating around 6,000 words of your dissertation and losing the will to go on.

It also suffered from a plight usually associated with musicians — second album syndrome.

Green Wing although at the time felt like a bit of a one-off, cult comedy seems to have become a big hit now with hindsight. So why couldn’t Campus have been like that lovely, funny and eccentric series?

Quite simply I think people have forgotten how strange and disturbing it was. It is remembered for Sue White walking camels down the corridors of the hospital wing and the will-they-won’t-they romance of Mac and Caroline. It is quite nice to forget that Guy Secretan slept with his own mother (unknowingly) for a bet.

If people had given Campus time and watched it to the end once you had uncomfortably warmed to the characters and let the disorganisation of Kirke University wash over you rather than worry you there were some great moments.

Channel 4 have apparently received many complaints about the series being scrapped but unfortunately it seems like a done decision as the channel says “there simply wasn’t enough [support] to justify a second series”.

And to all the people who didn’t stick with the series til the end here is what you were missing…

Is Quiz Trippers certain to be another C4 success?

There was a time when post 5 o’clock meant the teenagers of the UK got dramas like Grange Hill and Byker Grove but that has been replaced by daytime television substitutes.

Channel 4 is the king of filling this slot in the television schedule with a variety of programmes that are essentially the same programme just with different activities taking place.

The latest addition is Quiz Trippers billed as a blend of Coach Trip and Come Dine With Me. It sees a group of keen quiz goers, essentially the people who have appeared on Countdown and come second, travel the UK to conquer the traditional pub quiz.

So the staples of a classic Come Dine With Me is a group of people who are bound not to get along, an evening of entertainment and a quality voiceover who makes light of the ridiculousness of the show.

Another similar show that fits this bill is Four in a Bed, where four people in charge of bed and breakfasts across the county visit rival establishments and rate them. This leads to a half hour show at the end of the week consisting purely of bitchy feedback. Each week this episode tends to consist of “I found dust behind the cupboards and my cushions did not match my curtains”.

So let us follow the format — people who will not get along is a given as the show centres round rival bed and breakfast owners who relish the chance to pick away at places that are not their own business. An evening of entertainment as guests are treated to a night of showing them the highlights of the area and then serves up breakfast in the morning as half the competition is judged on a 30 minute meal. And of course the customary voiceover is there too.

Although the format sounds simple there have been diabolic attempts elsewhere, ITV are best at failing here. Dinner Date is a recent offering where a lucky person gets three dates over consecutive nights of a home cooked meal and then use this evening to whittle it down to their one true love. The losers at love get a ready meal for one.

Tacky and awkwardly entertaining but just does not have the class of a Channel 4 attempt, nor the piss take voice over.

The verdict of Quiz Trippers is still in its early days as the series pilots this week this week and there is a worry that there are too many rules as the team have to win, or live on basic rationing as well as between them picking an overall winner on a daily basis. But generally this can be ignored when looking for the team comaraderie and appreciating the in depth pub quizzes, which so far seem to be clever and well thought out rather than questions from out of a book. And any voiceover worries? Well have no fear as you lie back and enjoy the subtle tones of a Mr Christopher Biggins.