TV blog: The Great Pottery Throwdown

Benjie Goodhart / 07 January 2021

The Great Pottery Showdown is hypnotically lovely and charmingly inspirational, writes TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart.



The Great Pottery Throwdown, Sunday 10th January, 7:45pm, Channel 4

In September, my wife and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. In a decade of marital bliss, I have learned that the most important aspect of domestic harmony is sharing custody of the remote control. I don’t mean literally sharing it – my wife refuses to touch it, and instead simply issues me with instructions on what she would like to watch. I genuinely don’t think she knows how to use the TV without me, which at least makes me relatively indispensable, which also contributes to a long marriage.

Anyway, we are fortunate that we tend to like watching the same things. In my ideal world, she’d like the occasional bit of sci fi, and wouldn’t roll her eyes and make retching noises every time a football appeared onscreen, but otherwise we’re good. The only place we differ is that I’m not really fussed about shows where people sew stuff or do pottery. That’s just watching people work, right? What next? Competitive accountancy on the BBC? “You have three hours to fill out HMRC’s latest tax pack, starting now.”

But the missus has been telling me for some time now that the pottery throwdown is a thing of exquisite loveliness that I would really enjoy, and sometimes it’s easier to just get these things over with than try to resist. So I watched the first programme of this new series, just to put to bed the absurd fallacy that I could like watching people make mugs, plates and whatnot week in week out.

I’ll admit, things got off to a decent enough start. The presenter is Siobhan McSweeney, the grumpy nun from Derry Girls, and (unlike her fictional alter ego) she exudes bonhomie and good cheer. And the setting – the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke on Trent, is really rather gorgeous. But that can’t detract from the fact that this is a show watching people potter. The only time I’ve ever watched people potter on screen before was in the film Ghost, and even then, they had to invent a love affair between a woman and a ghost to detract from the boredom of watching people mess about with clay. For the first challenge, they’re to make a cheese set, including a cheese dome, pickle jars and a fondue pan. Whoopee.

And so to meeting the potters. Here’s Lee, a community nurse. Obviously we like him. We love all health workers. So obviously we also like Jodie, another nurse. Hannah is a housing project manager, Suz is a librarian, Adam a support worker for people with learning difficulties, Sally and Peter are both teachers, and Henry is an events manager in a retirement home. For goodness sake, is there no-one in this show who doesn’t do some delightfully community-centred job that benefits society? Couldn’t we just have a hedge fund manager and a professional executioner in there for balance?

The point is, they’re all, well, lovely. And as soon as they start throwing pots (as I believe it’s known) it becomes apparent that watching them create their little ceramic masterpieces is hypnotically lovely, and charmingly inspirational. They are phenomenally talented, all of them, and their creations strike me as being little individual miracles.

And that’s without mentioning the best thing about the programme. There is a judge, Keith Brymer Jones, a great big bruiser of a fellow who looks like he might eat rusty nails for breakfast. And he cries every time he likes something. It is the most touching, adorable, life-affirming thing, and I love him, and this programme, unreservedly. I hate it when my wife is right, but luckily that is very, very rare.

The Truth About Getting Fit at Home, Wednesday 13th January, 9pm, BBC One

More of us than ever before are working out at home. This isn’t exactly a surprise. More of us are doing everything at home. Working out, making models, working, sleeping, arguing, cooking, dying of boredom, painting, eating, messing about on our phones, dancing, reading, picking fluff out of our belly buttons, you name it, we’re doing more of it at home. We are, after all, effectively under house arrest.

That said, yesterday I read an article about how lockdown was set to lead to a ‘perfect storm’ of inactivity and consequent problems for both physical and mental health. This was in the sports section of the newspaper. I had turned to the sports section for some light relief after the abject misery of the news section, only to be assaulted by more tales of woe and grim forebodings. What next? Ultra-depressing statistics dotted throughout The Beano?

Generally speaking, though, we can agree that exercise is a good thing. Not during the event, of course. At the time, exercise tends to be a genuinely unpleasant sensation. But its effects can be magical, and are certainly worth the effort involved. So this programme, about the dos and don’ts of exercising at home, is a valuable contribution to the national conversation about how best to get through what will hopefully be the latter stages of this pandemic. It might not be a programme that you remember with vivid fondness on your death bed, but it might ensure that you don’t actually get into your death bed for a few years longer.

The programme is presented by Mehreen Baig, a journalist and blogger with enormous fingernails. I’m not sure that’s strictly relevant, but I don’t know anything else about her. She explains that, in 2020, over 5 million people were regularly working out at home. Much of that was down to Joe Wickes, the nation’s PE teacher. We tuned in, but on the second day I pulled a hamstring, so we never went back. The case is now in the hands of my crack litigation team.

So, in this programme, Mehreen will look at what does and doesn’t work, in terms of exercising at home. Some of it, I’ll grant you, is probably not massively relevant to most of us. I could have done without the section on the effectiveness of compression clothing, and I doubt many of us are taking protein supplements to help us work out more effectively or get more muscle mass, so we don’t need to know what does and doesn’t work. And is there anyone left alive who doesn’t understand that a balanced diet is important? Also, I couldn’t watch the bit on which sports bra to use because I was worried my wife might walk in and judge me.

But in amongst all of this, there are some genuinely heartening and useful nuggets of information. Apparently strength training is now deemed as important as cardiovascular training, and bigger muscles carry huge health benefits. But this doesn’t mean we all need to start coating ourselves with fake tan, popping on skimpy pants and gobbling steroids till our winkles disappear. You can get the strength required from just six minutes of exercise a week. Now THAT is my kind of health regimen.

There is a section on interval training, which suggests that even a very modest amount can carry major health benefits. But if that seems a bit energetic, there is also much to be gained from a gentle yoga session.

Baig spends an awful lot of time talking to professors – I think, during the making of this show, she must have spent more time in the company of academics than most students managed in the whole of 2020. The programme is, perhaps, slightly on the dry side for my liking. But anything that helps us stay fit and well during this winter of discontent is to be treasured, so that we might emerge in however many weeks’ time, strong, healthy and ready to embrace life like never before.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 9th January

Dad’s Army, 8pm, BBC Two: Okay, it’s not exactly a new series. Indeed, it’s over 50 years old, and must have been broadcast more than almost any show in TV history. But oh, it is still a joy. And this, you lucky people, is the first ever episode, in which Walmington-on-Sea bank manager George Mainwaring helps to set up a Local Defence Volunteer platoon for his hometown.

Mark Lawson Talks to John Le Carré, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Another repeat, but another one worth your attention. The celebrated author, who died last month, talks to Mark Lawson about his storied career as one of the finest thriller writers of our age.

Camilla: Making of a Mistress, 9:30pm, Channel 5: The title of this documentary is beyond crass, but this is a look at the life of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and her relationship with Prince Charles.

Sunday 10th January

A Perfect Planet 2/5, 8pm, BBC One: Episode two of David Attenborough’s spectacular new series looking at the specific factors that make life on Earth possible. Tonight, the role the sun plays in plant and animal life (spoiler alert: It’s quite important…)

Happy Birthday Mr Bean, 8pm, ITV: An hour-long documentary looking at how Rowan Atkinson’s modest sitcom character achieved global superstardom. Among those interviewed are Atkinson himself, and co-creator Richard Curtis.

Monday 11th January

Bradley Walsh and Son: Breaking Dad 1/6, 8pm, ITV: New series of the upbeat and enjoyably daft show which sees the actor-presenter-comedian and his son embark on a road trip in a motorhome. This series sees them travelling from the UK to Italy’s Amalfi coast. Tonight’s first stop is the Netherlands.

Death in Bollywood 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: A three-part documentary, showing on consecutive nights, looking into the death of Bollywood star Jiah Khan. Her British family don’t buy the official verdict that it was suicide, and are desperate to learn the truth, however painful.

The Pembrokeshire Murders 1/3, 9pm, ITV: Inevitably, at some point soon we’re going to run out of riveting real life murder stories to turn into TV series, but for now, Luke Evans and Keith Allen star in this three-part drama (over consecutive nights) about serial killer John Cooper.

Tuesday 12th January

Are Women the Fitter Sex?, 10pm, Channel 4: Dr Ronx, an NHS doctor and sometime TV presenter, looks at why women tend to survive a host of diseases, including Covid-19, better than men. But is a gender bias also costing women’s lives?

Thursday 14th January

Pooch Perfect 2/8, 8pm, BBC One: Ladies and gentlemen, we may actually have finally reached the nadir of television talent shows: competitive dog grooming, presented by Sheridan Smith.

The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer, 9pm, ITV: The last three nights have seen ITV’s drama about the catching of the serial killer John Cooper. Now, this documentary tells the story and fleshes out the details, hearing from those involved in a case that went unsolved for 20 years.

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