I’m a big fan of the cheap and cheerful competitive home dining/home styling/home catering tv formats like Come Dine With Me, Dinner Date, May the Best House Win and Four in a Bed. Things have moved on since Changing Rooms and Can’t Cook; Won’t Cook where the focus was on the designers and chefs. Now the focus is on the ordinary folk hoping to prove their B&B or home or cooking/hospitality/dating skills are the best. Of course the delight is not finding great culinary, courtship or business expertise but in coming across some of the funniest and most delusional people that hopefully you’ll only ever meet through the medium of tv.
Every programme is a delight, though, without doubt, the better programmes are produced by C4. The ITV copycat versions are just a bit shoddier. And nowhere is this more evident than in the talent of the shows’ narrators. The undisputed King of the voice-over commentary is Dave Lamb off Come Dine with Me, the programme where four or five amateur chefs compete against each other to host a dinner party for a £1,000 cash prize. Now Dave’s a comedian and comic actor and his interjections and comments are screamingly sarcastic and often as dry and amusing as a glass of chilled Trebbiano. Especially when the participants hale from the gourmet capital of west Yorkshire (which, to my great delight, is a frequent host venue). It’s reported that Dave was allowed to ad-lib most of his comments in the early days but even though bound by more scripted commentaries these days, his humour is still arch. Taxi!
I quite like the voice of Mike Adams off Four in a Bed, the show where B&B owners take turns to stay with one another and pay what they consider fair for their stay to find the best value establishment. However the scope for fun is more limited in Mike’s narrations because this is basically businesses competing against each other and he plays an unbiased straight bat, allowing the competitors to make the barbed comments. And as every episode seems to involve a pair of very queeny gay hoteliers from Blackpool, the brick-bats are often as sharp as cats’ claws.
However by far the most intriguing programme is Dinner Date, ITV’s variant on the home dining theme where someone goes for dinner at three different blind-dates’ houses and then subsequently chooses which of them they would like to go to a restaurant with on a ‘real’ date night. At the end of the show, the viewers are told whether they are still seeing each other or not. It’s as likely to produce a true love ending as Take Me Out but it’s less tacky (let’s face what could be as tasteless as ITV’s flagship Saturday night dating show except maybe Real Wives of Barnsley?). Anyway I like to watch it especially when it’s a single older guy selecting his 3 dinner dates from menus offered by 5 equally desperate middle-aged women. It’s a frisson of manners, dining etiquette, lovelornness and sexual hunger. And you can smell it on the participants. It screams out for an amusing narrator but instead ITV offer up Natalie Casey, a comic actress whose flat northern vowels and scripted corny comments are just excruciating. Yesterday I was listening to an episode on the iPlayer as I was making lunch and I swear to you, without a hint of Carry On irony, Natalie introduced the final lady’s menu by saying ‘she’s part German and she clearly likes pork in cider’. Ooh no missus.
Dave Lamb’s ad libs would ensure this programme would win more awards than Harry Hill and Ant & Dec combined. But ITV won’t employ anyone of his talent so it’s day-time tv only for Dinner Date and embarrassed smirks rather than belly-pork laughs. I’ll just have to enjoy it home alone.