The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer, Tuesday 9th March, 8pm, Channel 4
So, here’s how I work on my TV reviews (and yes, the rights for this story are available, should anyone be itching to turn it into a blockbuster movie). Generally, I will watch programmes during the working day, on my computer, whilst trying to shut out the noise of my wife and daughter having an argument about algebra.
However, if it’s a programme that my wife wants to watch (anything to do with cooking, anything with nice houses, anything featuring with my love rival, the comedian Tim Minchin) then she will insist we view it together, in the evening. Normally accompanied by some adult fruit juice.
But once in a blue moon, it’s something the whole family wants to watch. And when that happens, there’s great excitement, snacks are laid on, everyone has a drink, a place is made for the dog on the sofa, the lights are dimmed, and on we go (at least until the kids start fighting because their feet are touching).
Last night was just such a night. The Great British Bake Off is a huge favourite in our household, and the celebrity version even more so. My son, who becomes a teenager on Saturday (wish me luck) is at the stage in life where anyone who is famous is intrinsically cool. My nine-year-old daughter loves a bit of glitz and glamour, not to mention cakes. And my wife and I just love anything that happens in that gingham-bedecked tent.
Indeed, I love it so much that last night, I did something I have never done before in all my years of TV reviewing. I forgot I was working. I sat there for the first ten minutes of the programme, just enjoying it all. Then I looked down, saw a pen and blank sheet of paper in my lap, and realised that I was meant to be taking copious notes. Oops.
So, to business. This new five-part series features Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, as ever, and presenter Matt Lucas (whose partner-in-crime, Noel Fielding, is on paternity leave). Among the celebs lined up for later episodes are James McAvoy, Dame Kelly Holmes, John Bishop, David Baddiel, Anneka Rice and Stacey Dooley. But tonight’s series opener is contested by comedians Rob Beckett and Tom Allen, singer Alexandra Burke, and (to my son’s unbridled excitement) Daisy Ridley, the star of the last three Star Wars films.
In the normal Bake Off series, one of the joys of the show is how much it matters to the participants. The viewer becomes drawn into the narrative precisely because you get a real sense of jeopardy – you are watching people’s dreams either shattered or fulfilled. Conversely, the joy of the celebrity version is how supremely irrelevant the results are. The bakers are, by and large, cheerfully hopeless, and the whole show has an upbeat, devil-may-care feel to it. Everyone is having fun, and it’s infectious.
It’s also fun watching things go horribly wrong. As Prue confesses, “I always love it when the celebrities mess up.” It’s fair to say, then, that she’ll be able to enjoy herself plenty in this opening episode. But, as ever, there are surprises along the way, and some genuinely impressive bakes to boot.
“That tent has a kind of magic about it,” says Prue. She’s not wrong.
On your marks, get set, bake.
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DNA Journey 1/3, Wednesday 10th March, 9pm, ITV
Imagine an ITV version of a BBC programme. University Challenge would become Lorraine Kelly’s University Challenge, where all the questions would be about the Kardashians and Love Island. MasterChef would be presented by Joey Essex, and would involve a naked cooking round. Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing would become Ant and Dec’s Death Fish Challenge, and would see them hanging off the back of powerboats armed with harpoons. Basically, you take a BBC programme, zhoosh it up a bit, add a touch of showbiz sparkle and take away about 20 IQ points, and there you have it.
And so we come to ITV’s version of Who Do You Think You Are? Unfortunately, Ant and Dec can’t be the subjects of this, as they’ve already done it. Ant and Dec’s DNA Journey was on in November 2019, and saw the Geordie pair travelling back through past generations to find out more about their ancestors. The show was such a success, ITV commissioned a new, three-part series of it.
So here we are. Each episode will see a pair of celebrities investigating their forebears. In later episodes we have Amanda Holden and Alan Carr, and Martin and Roman Kemp. But first up, we have former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp and all-round cricketing legend Freddie Flintoff.
The format of the show sees the pair taken all over the country, not discovering which one of them the next location pertains to until they get there. When we first join them on their journey, they are heading north on the motorway, towards Preston. That’s no surprise – it’s where Flintoff is from – but then they veer off on to the M62, towards Yorkshire.
This can mean one of two things: Either proud Lancastrian Flintoff is actually originally a Yorkie, or confirmed Southerner and cockney Redknapp is actually from the north. “It’s like discovering your dad is not your dad,” complains Flintoff. Their destination is Wakefield, specifically the National Coal Mining Museum. Here, they discover that one of them is connected to a former miner, who became a hero in dramatic circumstances.
As Flintoff points out, this is quite the starting point. “We’ve started with a bloke who got a medal from the king. That’s their opening gambit!”
And it does get even better from there. What results is a fascinating exploration of the past, delving back through the generations of both men’s families. The stories range from the heroic to the criminal, sometimes involving the same person. There are links to everything from the Battle of the Somme to a crime that was reported all over the world. There’s even a link to Tottenham Hotspur – and it’s not the one involving Jamie’s dad! They also get to meet relatives they never knew they had – although as some of them are seventh cousins, it’s not exactly reuniting long lost siblings. Presumably we’re all just about seventh cousins, no?
It’s all great fun, though. The ‘experts’ aren’t your white-gloved, calmly-spoken scientists or genealogists you get on Who Do You Think You Are? They’re more upbeat and jokey. More ITV, basically.
At the centre of it all are Flintoff AND Redknapp. It helps enormously that they are such affable company – funny, thoughtful, and always looking for an excuse to tease one another. The result is a hugely watchable, fun and diverting hour of TV.
The best… and the rest:
Saturday 6th March
Harry and Meghan vs the Monarchy, 9pm, Channel 5: A look at what some see as a growing rift between the Sussexes and the royal family, a battle increasingly being fought in the crucible of social media and broadcasting.
Dave Allen Live: On Life, 10pm, BBC Two: A selection of monologue by the legendary Irish comedian, preceded (at 9pm) by a repeat of a compilation of his best bits. Utterly delightful.
Tuesday 9th March
Caroline Aherne at the BBC, 9pm, BBC One: Comedian and actor John Thomson presents this tribute to the writer and actor responsible for a spectacular output including The Fast Show, The Mrs Merton Show and The Royle Family, who died in 2016 aged just 52.
Long Lost Family: What Happened Next, 9pm, ITV: Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell follow up on some of the most memorable stories from their enormously popular show that reunites relatives separated by time and fate. Hankies at the ready!
The Celebrity Circle for Stand Up to Cancer, 9:15pm, Channel 4: Famous faces, and indeed the rest of their bodies, move into an apartment block where they can only communicate with each other by social media. And then someone wins. Or something. Makes more sense when you watch it. Probably. Among those taking part are Denise van Outen and Duncan from Blue.
Wednesday 10th March
Police Interceptors 1/15, 8pm, Channel 5: Documentary featuring Nottinghamshire police’s traffic units. Tonight, the firearms team tackles a man with a pistol, and a siege ensues.
The Killing of James Bulger 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: Two 90-minute documentaries (the second showing tomorrow) chart the tragic story of the two-year-old boy lured away from his mother in February 1993, in a case that would go on to distress the whole nation.
Thursday 11th March
The Dog House, 8pm, Channel 4: Return of the documentary series going behind the scenes at the Wood Green animal charity, an organisation committed to matching homeless dogs with prospective owners.
Return to Dunblane with Lorraine Kelly, 9pm, ITV: 25 years ago, 16 primary school pupils and their teacher were murdered by a lone gunman. Lorraine Kelly was a reporter on the ground that day. In this powerful documentary, she returns to the town to interview some of those whose lives were changed forever that day.
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