It’s amazing the power that TV has to delight and infuriate in equal measure, and I’m not talking about the co-scheduling of X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing (though how a knackered old mule like Bruce Forsyth hasn’t been shot by now I’ll never know). But a few other things have caught my tv eye recently.
First up the sad news that one of my early tv heroes has sadly passed away. A renowned drinker and carouser with several failed marriages behind him; no it’s not that old soak Keith Floyd (who was an engaging chef but a rather nasty bit of work in private it seems). I’m not sure if many will remember but the guy I’m talking about is the great Aussie actor (if that’s not an oxymoron) Ray Barrett. He made his name in the original soap drama Emergency Ward 10 which, if I’m right, was my mum’s favourite programme in the very early 60’s. I’m not sure whether she actually liked Ray Barrett – he had a pockmarked face from childhood acne and always came across as a gritty, hard-edged character. Just as an aside I know she did get a little doe-eyed whenever ‘Man in a Suitcase’ came on starring Bradford Dillman. This was before he became a little bloated in later years. I guess he was the sexy American equivalent to Patrick McGoohan’s Danger Man (cf James Coburn’s Derek Flint to Sean Connery’s James Bond – good but not in the same league). What a brilliant theme tune though.
Anyway Barrett left a big impression on me in his subsequent role as globe-trotting deal-maker for a multi-national oil company in the series Mogul, which later became the Troubleshooters. I really admired his character’s worldliness and ability to clinch the great deal (often by being the last under the table). In fact I’ve been impressed by and envious of truly great salesmen, such as my dad, all my life. But what I secretly also liked about the programme was the design of the Mogul logo which someone at the BBC had commissioned – clean, simple and impactful I thought. I guess this was the first time I’d taken an interest in such things and brand design still fascinates me. Here’s a shot of craggy Ray and that now rather dated logo (but who’d have thought a large ‘M’ could become iconic eh?):
Ray went on to become perhaps even more famous for his voice-acting work, becoming the unmistakable voice of Commander Shore who introduced the futuristic Gerry Anderson-produced puppet series ‘Stingray’ with the unforgettable words, “Stand by for action! We are about to launch Stingray….Anything can happen in the next half hour!’ It was dramatic stuff and has any kid’s programme ever opened with more thrill or panache?
To top that he became forever associated with the daddy of all TV puppet-shows, Thunderbirds, as the voices of both Thunderbird 5 astronaut John Tracy (OK not my favourite) and the show’s resident baddie, the villain known as The Hood , who was universally disliked for his glowing eyes and deep sinister voice. That was Ray my friends. Now Barrett had a long and very successful acting career when he returned to Australia but my key memories of him are firmly rooted in those 60’s programmes. Takes you back eh, well it does me.
Despite politicians telling us otherwise, we must still be in the middle of a recession because the second thing I’ve noticed is the plague of adverts beseeching viewers to cash in their meagre bits of jewellery box gold. There must be half a dozen firms at it including postalgold.com, gold2pounds, cashtogold and other similar-named horrors all offering exactly the same service it seems: send us your unwanted gold in our special envelopes and we’ll send you the cash equivalent in days. If you aren’t happy send the cash back and we’ll return your gold without quibble. They all claim to own their own foundries with no middle-men involved so they can all offer the keenest deals.
I don’t know why but it all seems a bit sad and faintly desperate, like walking down a road full of pawn shops with all the owners outside hassling the passing public for some trade. I don’t suppose any of those jangling envelopes might end up in the postie’s xmas tips sack rather than the smelter? Of course not…. but I’m not sure I’d mail my gold off in the middle of a UK postal strike.
Anyway there’s one programme which has really grabbed me in recent months. You must have seen it; the totally engrossing ‘Come Dine With Me’. The format is incredibly simple; 5 strangers take turns to invite the other 4 guests to dinner at their homes over the space of a week and after each meal they get to score each other for the overall prize of £1000. The menus are circulated before each dinner party. On the night the hosts are encouraged to put on a bit of cheesey entertainment as well as a meal and guests are allowed to wander round bedrooms between courses etc to find those oh so amusing little personal effects. The TV guys are discreet enough not to show the bedside porno or packs of multi-flavoured johnnies or king-sized multi-ribbed vibrators etc. That said, the tv guys are clearly looking to expose the odd peccadillo and there’s as much focus on the social interaction between the guests – often looking for a saucy conversation based on the odd bedroom or wardrobe ‘find’ as on the quality of the cooking.
There’s a celebrity version to match the enthusiastic amateurs but it’s a little predictable in my view. Who’d have thought that Roland Rivron’s a zany host or that Leslie Joseph is flirty over the dinner table or that Anneka Rice sounds like a dish, looks a dish but couldn’t cook a dish to save her life? But the reality is they are all television savvy. No the real beauty of the programme comes from watching the hapless tv virgins who aren’t aware of how their screen personna is coming across. The best programmes are where the hosts have an inflated sense of their own cooking prowess (very occasionally it’s the nerdy geeky bloke/girl who turns out to be a surprisingly talented cook), or where the combination of personalities proves combustible.
Once in a while all the factors combine to make a truly awful social and gourmet experiment but a totally awesome televisual experience. Now I know you’re going to think I’m prejudiced but the best CDWM programmes are always the ones set in south Yorkshire. Ah my favourite source of whatever the opposite is of a humble, modest, self-deprecating personality.
There was a recent programme where the main stand-out character was a ginger-coiffed employee of Yorkshire Water who wondered about offering frout jouce or sowp as a starter. As with every Yorkshire male he was ultra confident that his talent would secure the main prize and we watched as he prepared a totally dreadful meal. He actually cried at its awfulness at the end of the night but this late and lame show of emotional sensitivity was derided by his hard-assed female Yorkie guests who awarded him crap points for a crap meal. Sowper stuff.
But the greatest CDWM programme was a few weeks ago involving a guy called Martin (I think) a dull middle manager whose ownership of an exciting Ferrari was just so incongruous with his boring, single, middle-aged life-style. But this was a Yorkshire special and his fellow cooking contestants were a lady of a certain age who rode very large stallions by day and wore very low tops by night. She had a thing for young Yorkshire meat which was just as well because the third contestant was a strapping young farmer. He was in his mid 20’s and she made a drunken play for him on the first night which might have embarrassed Jodie Marsh with its subtlelty. He escaped with barely a shirt button intact.
The 4th contestant was a nice curvy Yorkshire lass, again of a certain age, who without any sense of irony proudly announced that she ran a beauty salon. Also ‘currently unmarried’ she had a thing about animals and fell out big time with the man-eater when she cooked a meal consisting of a bird within a bird within a bird. ‘But why do you have a problem with it?’ asked the predator to the vegan. Four times the conversation took place and still she didn’t get it.
I can’t rember the the 5th person.
But our hero was Martin who was absolutely sure he’d win (as most men and all Yorkshire blerks on the programme seem to believe). His meal was so-so OK but his table conversation was solely based on the performance stats for the Ferrari 434 (or whatever). The girls weren’t impressed and were less inclined to slip their hands into his racing undies once they discovered his hideous F1 knit wear. Probably knitted by his mom; the last woman whose breasts he’d probably seen. There was something hidden in Martin’s closet that needed to come out methinks (and it wasn’t his jumpers). He wasn’t even going to pull Miss Easy and Sleasy.
He was just so supercillious, condescending, completely self-regarding and absorbed in his little world of yellow (!) Ferraris and of course he lost by a frigging mile. But the dinner night was one of the great tv events in recent times. The young lad won the £1000 I think and as a double celebration managed to escape the clutches of the she-devil.
If you ever get the chance check it out. And watch out for the moment when the guests ask Martin to prove he really owned a Ferrari. That look of ‘you-made-me-do-it-and-now-I’m-going-to-have-to-reluctantly-(sorry gleefully)-show-you -my-Ferrari’ on his face as he went to unlock the garage was just soooo blerk from t’dales. Reet belting.