Kelvin’s Big Farming Adventure 1/6, Monday 17th January, 8:30pm, BBC One
You know that feeling of wearing something to a party only to discover that there is someone else there wearing the exact same thing? Only they carry it off better? I’m not talking from experience here – I have successfully avoided this possibility by wearing deeply unfashionable clothes, and also avoiding parties as much as possible. But I’m familiar with the concept.
I mention this simply because it’s impossible to avoid comparing this new six-part documentary series on BBC One with Amazon Prime Video’s Clarkson’s Farm. They are both virtually identical in concept, if not in execution. Both feature a recognised media figure embarking on a new life by taking up farming in spite of having absolutely no experience or understanding of the job. Both are mentored by an experienced, wisecracking local farmer who knows what they’re doing. And both discover that farming is far harder graft than they’d imagined.
Not that this is bad. It’s not. In fact, it’s rather good. Kelvin Fletcher, the star of this show, played farmer Andy Sugden in Emmerdale for 20 years, before going on to win Strictly in 2019. He is a charismatic and affable chap, and his wife Liz is a cheerfully upbeat presence. Last year, the pair decided to move to a disused 120-acre farm in the Peak District to start a new life with their two small children, Milo and Maisie.
Kelvin’s plan is to restore the farm to its former glory. But it’s fair to say, he’s somewhat lacking in experience. “The first time I went to the countryside was when I was cast in Emmerdale,” he admits. And it would appear that not many of the intricacies of farming rubbed off on Kelvin during his two-decade stint in the soap. In one scene, he confesses to not knowing that there were different breeds of sheep. I consider myself the ultimate urban creature – the countryside is a strange and alien place to me, with patchy Wifi and not enough coffee shops – and even I know that there are different breeds of sheep.
This is where neighbour and tenant farmer Gilly comes into the equation. Essentially performing the same role as Caleb in Clarkson’s Farm, she is there to teach Kelvin what to do, and to laugh at his mishaps. First up, Kelvin has to help her round up her 400 sheep for shearing. While not being trusted to do the actual shearing, he is given the dubious honour of cutting the pooey bits out of the wool surrounding the sheep’s, um, back door. Predictably, it is not a job he relishes.
Before taking delivery of his own livestock, there is a lot of fixing up to do. There are holes in the barn roof, blocked drains, broken fences and crumbling walls all over the farm. But two animals are being delivered early – a couple of pet rabbits for the kids. It quickly becomes apparent that Kelvin can’t even manage to look after them. This is going to be a tough gig.
Kelvin goes off and buys a tractor, just as Clarkson did in his series. Gilly scoffs at the size of it, just as Caleb did. Kelvin doesn’t know how to attach the farming machinery to the tractor, just as Clarkson di… oh, you get the idea. Then it’s time to worm the sheep, and treat their feet. It doesn’t go well. Nothing seems to be going well, but while Kelvin seems understandably overwhelmed by proceedings, Liz is cheerfully optimistic and carefree. Mind you, she doesn’t have to clip poo off the wrong end of a sheep.
This may all be highly derivative stuff, but it’s good fun, with sympathetic characters and beautiful scenery, a few laughs, and no small degree of jeopardy. It might not win any awards for originality, but it’s pleasant, easy watching for a cold winter night. And you can go to bed thanking the heavens that you’re not a farmer.
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Keeping Up with the Aristocrats 1/3, Monday 13th January, 9pm, ITV
How do other people see the Brits? I think they mostly view us as a nation of people obsessed with queuing, discussing the weather, and class. And, to be fair, they’re pretty much right. I’m never happier than when I’m standing in a line discussing the inclement weather with a Duke. I mean, it’s never actually happened to me, but I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy it.
This new three-part series from ITV certainly feeds our fascination with the aristocracy. And it’s not difficult to see why. They are an extraordinary bunch – deeply eccentric, often absurdly entitled, and prone to complaining that they don’t have two beans to rub together. Mind you, it’s probably true. With the price of heating what it is these days, you need a hefty trust fund just to heat a modest bungalow, let alone a 200-room palace in Yorkshire.
The need for money may explain why the four families involved in this series have decided to take part. I can’t think of any other reason why you’d invite a documentary crew to come and nose about your home and follow you around to various posh events. Particularly as the landed gentry are traditionally a notoriously camera-shy collection of people. Unless the cameras are from Hello! Or OK Magazine, in which case they’ll sell them the photographic rights to their weddings, honeymoons, christenings, picnics and trips to the shops.
Anyway, the series follows four different aristocratic households across a summer, as they negotiate life’s vicissitudes armed only with a private education, a vast property, and a network of well-connected contacts. However will they cope?
First up, the Mountbattens. Lord Ivar Mountbatten is related to the royal family from both Prince Philip and the Queen’s sides. He and husband James live at Bridwell Park, a Grade I Listed 18th Century Georgian house in Devon, complete with ornamental lake, gothic chapel and deer park. As you do. For 17 years, Ivar was married to Penny, and has three daughters with her. In a rather touching note, Penny and Ivar are still close friends, and Penny has welcomed James into the family.
Ivar and James have running costs of £100,000-a-year for their house and grounds, and are always looking for new schemes to make money. They’re like Del Boy and Rodney, if the Trotters had been educated at Gordonstoun and were Prince Charles’ cousins. Their latest wheeze is to open a pop-up restaurant with chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. The Mountbattens, that is, not the Trotters. Although I’d like to see the latter.
Princess Olga Romanoff’s great uncle was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. She lives in Provinder House in Kent, which is literally crumbling around her. To make ends meet, she gives people guided tours around her house. Mind you, her claims of chronic poverty are slightly belittled by the fact that she and her friend Robert like to spend afternoons drinking Bollinger on her rather extensive, sweeping front lawn.
The Sitwells live in the vast Renshaw Hall in Derbyshire, the family’s country seat since 1625. Generally speaking, if you can refer to your home as the ‘country seat’, you’re probably quite posh. Not to mention if you have a penchant for going for a morning swim in your vast fountain in the midst of your ornate garden. Oh, and you have a staff that includes four gardeners, two housekeepers, and a butler.
Lord Gerald Fitzallan-Howard, brother of the Duke of Norfolk, lives in baronial splendour in Carlton Towers, Yorkshire. With its 126 rooms, it costs £70,000-a-year just to heat. Think of the carbon footprint! Like Ivar at Bridwell Park, they rent out the property for weddings, but Gerald and his wife Emma are dipping a toe in the wine-making business.
The cameras follow all four households, and Simon Callow’s rich, plummy tones narrate proceedings as we see them get into various scrapes and enjoying a good deal of rather posh socialising with other extremely posh people. It’s all rather jolly, and I have to say, I surprised myself by warming to the contributors enormously. They are charming eccentrics in the greatest British tradition and, as a result, this series is something of a hoot. And there’s a nice line in property envy to boot. You can’t beat a good snoop around someone else’s house, and these houses (and personalities) are certainly big enough to support a three-part series. What ho!
The best… and the rest:
Sunday 16th January
Dancing on Ice, 6:30pm, ITV: Pip and Holly return, along with judges Torvill and Dean, Ashley Banjo and Oti Mabuse, to preside over more Strictly-on-skates mayhem. This year’s contestants include Bez, Rachel Stevens and Brendan Cole, who presumably will win it.
Sue Perkins’ Big American Road Trip 1/2, 9pm, Channel 4: The delightful Ms Perkins travels across Colorado and California in a campervan, meeting fellow nomadic types on her way, in what promises to be a charming travelogue.
Monday 17th January
Geordie Hospital 1/6, 9pm, Channel 4: Oh joy. Another documentary series charting the work that goes on in the nation’s hospitals, this time in Newcastle.
999: What’s Your Emergency?, 9pm, Channel 4: My emergency is that I think I may be suffocating under an excess of emergency service documentaries.
Tuesday 18th January
Winterwatch, 8pm, BBC Two: Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan return for another series of wintry natural delights from Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk. I thought the whole point of Norfolk was that it didn’t have any hills.
24 Hours in A&E, 9pm, Channel 4: Honestly. Enough already.
Ghislaine, Prince Andrew and the Paedophile, 9pm, ITV: Ranvir Singh investigates this tawdry tale.
Why Ships Crash, 9pm, BBC Two: Using never-before seen footage, testimony from witnesses speaking for the very first time, and expert analysis, this investigation aims to uncover the inside story of the Ever Given, the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal last year, causing disruption to the global supply network.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday:
There is literally nothing new to watch. Find yourself a good old box set to watch. Or do the ironing. It’s up to you.
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