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TV reviews: Jamie Oliver: Together and Submarine: Life Under the Waves

Benjie Goodhart / 09 September 2021

Jamie Oliver cooks up a feast for friends and family in Jamie Oliver: Together on Channel 4, and a fascinating Channel 5 documentary looks at life on a nuclear submarine.

Jamie Oliver: Together, Monday 13th September, 8pm, Channel 4

People are coming back together. Jamie Oliver thinks we should enjoy this, and who am I to argue? And how does Jamie think we should celebrate? Let’s see if you can guess. Did he suggest:

a) That we should all have 9 pints of strong lager and a fight in a pub car park
b) That we should all go around licking one another’s faces with careless disdain for hygiene
c) That we should have a large family feast

Whilst options a and b would certainly indicate Jamie’s TV career was taking an unusual foray into some darkly strange areas, it is with something approaching disappointment that I have to tell you he is suggesting option c.

Not that the disappointment lasts long, because Jamie’s food looks as fantastic as ever, his all-round joie-de-vivre and bonhomie are unquenched, and the whole programme (the first in a new series) is beautifully shot, albeit in a way that makes you hideously jealous of Jamie’s home, family and entire life.

This series is all about making easy-to-follow recipes for epic feasts. Although, I should say, his definition of easy-to-follow may not tally entirely with mine. Today, he’s cooking a fabulous al fresco meal for family and friends, with the idea being that most of the hard graft can be done the day before, leaving him to be able to concentrate on hanging out with his guests and having a good time. I’ve long been a master of this, though my tactic involves dialling in a curry rather than spending the previous day hammering away in the kitchen.

But there is something undeniably rewarding about being able to cook for your nearest and dearest. “This is saying ‘I love you’ through food,” says the big softie. I don’t know if heating up a frozen pizza entirely expresses my love for my kids, but I get the idea.

Kicking things off are tomato and goat’s cheese crostini, which doesn’t really do it for me. Goat’s cheese tastes how goats smell, and for the uninitiated, goats do not smell good. But the main course – which constitutes the bulk of this programme – is spectacular: Slow roasted shoulder of lamb, with a merguez stuffing, apricot sauce, salsa verde, gravy, lemon-infused roast potatoes, and French beans. Three sauces might be slightly beyond my laziness capacity, but the whole thing looks utterly heavenly.

Jamie’s latest phrase, incidentally, seems to be that you just use a ‘kiss’ of something. A kiss of oil, a kiss of jam… There were six kisses in the roughly 47 minutes of this programme, so one every eight minutes. That’s more than in your average romcom!

At one point, during cooking, Jamie’s son Buddy wanders into the kitchen. Jamie asks him to help, and he replies with a cheery: “Yeah, sure!” Eh? What? If I ask either of my kids to help out in the kitchen, they look at me as if I’ve just spat in their cereal. Mind you, the TV cameras are present in Jamie’s kitchen, and I think my son in particular would suddenly find his culinary side if it meant appearing on TV.

The pair chat amiably while they cook, remembering spending much of the past year building camps and fishing. We, by contrast, watched Netflix and shouted at each other. Bloody Oliver family.

The guests arrive, everyone sits at the beautiful table outdoors and drinks wine and laughs and eats fabulous food. Dessert is a panna cotta that looks sensational. They make toasts and enjoy each other’s company, before putting up a bedsheet and showing a film out in the garden. It’s all incredibly inspiring. I’m off to make my kids lunch now. My daughter wants beans on toast, my son a Pot Noodle. We are living the dream.

Submarine: Life Under the Waves, Monday 13th September, 9pm, Channel 5

Submarines are all the rage at the moment. I say this as a 48-year-old man who last knew what was all the rage in around 1990, so anything I say should be taken with a truckload of salt. But they do seem to be popular just now. BBC One’s excellent thriller Vigil is currently holding audiences in its thrall, while ITV have their own sub-based drama, Tenacity, set to go out next year. Now Channel 5 is joining the party below the waves with this two-part documentary series about life on board HMS Trenchant, a billion-pound nuclear vessel that is quaintly referred to as a Hunter-Killer sub.

Normally, I approach a Channel 5 documentary with all the joy and anticipation I normally reserve for major dental surgery – there are only so many films one can watch about bailiffs, or whatever is going on in Yorkshire, or true-life murders. But I find the idea of life on board a submarine riveting, in no small part because I can’t think of anything worse. And this documentary is an absolute belter.

The cameras join the crew just as they’re setting off from Plymouth on a four-month mission. That’s four months spent entirely at – or rather under – the sea. It’s like setting sail just now, and coming home in mid-January. I feel stressed just thinking about it. What happens if you set out and discover, after half an hour, that you’re claustrophobic?

Trenchant’s Captain is a sanguine and unruffled 41-year-old called Dave Burrell, heading up a crew of around 130 men (there are no women on this boat). Doing his rounds before they set off, he asks one of his charges what their objective should be. “Don’t hit the rocks, kill the enemy,” comes the cheerful reply. I’m not sure that’s a crew member whose finger we want on the torpedo button.

In actual fact, Trenchant’s role is to protect Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent. As such, her job is to guard the submarine that actually carries the Trident missiles. Trenchant is a nuclear sub only in the sense that it is powered by a nuclear reactor, which allows it to stay at sea without refuelling for years at a time.

The first thing you notice about life on board Trenchant is that it is very, very crowded. That’s not exactly a surprise, but the sleeping quarters are pretty horrendous. Crew members ‘hot bunk’, meaning they share a bunk in six-hour shifts. Outbreaks of scabies are, apparently, not uncommon as a result. And if that’s not enough, D’n’V is also a regular hazard. This is navy-speak for diarrhoea and vomiting. “First you worry that you might die,” says one crew member breezily. “Then you worry you won’t die.”

Food is a big focus for the crew. Deprived of booze, the opposite sex, and social media, they haven’t got much else to keep them cheery. Luckily, by the looks of the fillet steaks they’re served, there is much to be cheery about (provided you ignore every single other aspect of life on board).

It was once said of World War One that the experience of troops in the trenches was one of “months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror.” It seems to me that life on board Trenchant is not dissimilar. Things plod along in a fairly mundane manner for the crew, until some crisis or another strikes. There’s intelligence on a Russian submarine in British waters, a medical emergency, and a catastrophic engine breakdown all in episode one. And one of the two vast refrigeration compartments breaks. That may not sound terrifying, but when it means no fresh food for months on end, it could be a disaster for morale.

All the while, the crew go about their business with a cheerful countenance and utter professionalism. It is, in its way, oddly reassuring. And utterly compelling.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 11th September

BBC Proms, BBC Two, 7:45pm, BBC One, 9pm: Katie Derham presents coverage of the climax to the classical music season live from the Royal Albert Hall. Expect lots of flags and that odd bopping up and down that they do.

Fergie & Meghan: Inconvenient Royals, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary examining the parallels between the two royal pariahs, and asking what Meghan Markle can learn from Sarah Ferguson.

Paul O'Grady's Saturday Night Line Up, 9:35pm, ITV: Comedy chat and game show in which the likeable O’Grady puts questions, scenarios and dilemmas to celebrity guests, who must arrange themselves from best to worst correctly to match the order the British public have put them in. In the first edition he is joined by Jack Dee, Joanna Page, Rob Rinder and Mica Paris.

Sunday 12th September

Endeavour, 8pm, ITV: The Morse prequel returns. It’s 1971, and young Morse is charged with investigating a bomb at an Oxford college, whilst also having to protect a star footballer from a threat made by the IRA.

Life Drawing Live, 9pm, BBC Two: A worthwhile two-hour experiment sees celebs Johnny Vegas, Kimberley Wyatt and David James guided by artists Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie to draw a series of poses. Viewers at home can send in their own work for live feedback.

Tuesday 14th September

Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain, 9pm, Channel 4: One-off film covering the group’s global success and cultural influence, from their explosive arrival on the scene in the mid-1990s to their recent world tour.

Wednesday 15th September

Fred and Rose West: Reopened 1/2, 9pm, ITV: Sir Trevor McDonald presents a two-part documentary, following investigators as they explore new leads to discover whether the gruesome couple may have had more victims than initially believed.

The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary examining the Russian attempt to assassinate Alexei Navalny in August 2020, and the implications of the attack.

Thursday 16th September

Help, 9pm, Channel 4: Boasting a cast including Stephen Graham, Jodie Comer, Lesley Sharp and Ian Hart, and from the pen of the peerless Jack Thorn, this drama follows life in a care home during the pandemic, and promises to be a brutally brilliant watch.

All Creatures Great and Small, 9pm, Channel 5: The triumphant reboot of the classic veterinary drama based on James Herriot’s much-loved books returns for a second series. James (Nicholas Ralph) is offered a job that could change his life.

Patrick Kielty: One Hundred Years of Union, 9pm, BBC One: The presenter and comedian investigates why a trade border in the Irish Sea has led to violent protests in Northern Ireland, and asks whether this could lead to a return to the region’s troubled past.

Friday 17th September

The Cotswolds with Pam Ayers 1/4, 8pm, Channel 5: The poet presents this four-part series about one of the country’s most adored and picturesque areas. Tonight, she visits Bourton-on-the-Water, and drops in on former Blur bassist Alex James at his Cotswold farm.

Lighthouses: Building the Impossible 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: Rob Bell looks at the astonishing feats of engineering that allowed the construction of lighthouses in some remarkably hostile and unreceptive locations.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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