Classic Mary Berry, Monday 26th February, 8:30pm, BBC One
Everyone’s lives are filled with disappointments (there’s a cheery start to the week’s blog). Mine include the fact that I was never good enough to play football for England. Or even QPR. Come to that, I only scraped into the school team. When they had an injury crisis. Another is that, so far, this august column has yet to come to the attention of the Pulitzer judges. But perhaps the most acute among my disappointments is that I shall never be Mary Berry.
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Clearly there is a rather obvious reason for this. But what I really mean is, I will never have even a smidge of her poise, her elegance or her sheer presence. The woman is simply extraordinary. She’s 82, and looks more than a decade younger. She is utterly immaculate, every single time you see her. How does she do it? Does she get up at 2am and spend six hours on her infinitesimally perfect hair, where not a single hirsute neutron is out of place?
How to get Mary Berry's look
I could discuss her quite remarkable barnet for the rest of the blog, but sadly I’m not paid to write about hair (if there was a byline photo it would be instantly obvious why – think William Hague meets Yul Brynner). So on to her new show, Classic Mary Berry, a six-part cookery series that sees her working in her (unsurprisingly immaculate and tasteful) kitchen, and going out and about to meet other chefs and cook with them.
We get off to a peculiar start, with Mary picking blackberries while her voiceover intones “I love it when the evenings draw in, and there’s a hint of wood smoke in the air.” It’s not late September, we’re practically in March! The nights stopped drawing in months ago, we’re on the cusp of spring and you’re picking blackberries!
All is quickly forgiven, however, when Mary introduces her first dish: Eggs Benedict Florentine. “Why have one, when you can have both together,” she winks, which is a motto by which I have lived my life. “It’s very simple,” she says, before embarking upon a dizzyingly complex series of manoeuvres. It’s a divine-looking dish, though, “a perfect breakfast, just to die for.” Unlike a 1970s fry up, complete with fried bread, which was quite literally a breakfast to die for.
Try these delicious recipes from Mary Berry
Next, she potters off to meet Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt, who only ever cooks on a wood fire, yet has managed to win a Michelin star. He shows her how to cook celeriac over said wood fire. It involves, um, placing the entire celeriac bulb onto the wood fire, and leaving it for two hours. That’s a simple recipe, Mary! That said, who wants to wait for two hours, and only have celeriac to show for it? They’ll give anyone a Michelin star these days.
Next, he makes her Swedish meatballs. Yum! Hold on! He’s mixing charcoal into his sauce. The man is clearly a looney, some sort of Scandi-imposter who is taking advantage of Mary’s good nature. How dare he! Mary tastes the sauce, and declares it exquisite, but that’s because she’s far too polite, far too decent, far too Mary, to do anything else.
Next, Mary makes mushroom galettes, using shop-bought pastry. “Life’s too short to make your own puff pastry.” Whaaat? This from the woman who once greeted a Bake Off contestant using shop-bought fondant by almost disembowelling them with a spatula. There’s still time for slow-cooked lamb shank, chocolate truffle pots, and crispy doughnuts with cloudberry jam, which is clearly a made-up fruit. Delicious!
100 Years Younger in 21 Days, Tuesday 27th February, 9pm, ITV
Another day, another programme about how to stop the ageing process. Indeed, not just stop it, but reverse it, turning us all into real life Benjamin Buttons. This one, though, is something of a hoot. It follows the progress of eight celebrities as they undergo a sort of physical and nutritional boot camp in Sardinia. Sardinia itself looks unbelievably beautiful, but it’s difficult to enjoy a holiday when you’re subjected to prune and kale purée and the occasional coffee enema.
In the traditional start for this type of programme, the slebs all meet at the airport, and all claim to be absolutely thrilled to learn that simply their favourite people ever are going on this journey with them. Just once, I’d like to see one of them proclaim their campmates boring, offensive and riddled with halitosis. Those involved are former Catchphrase host Roy Walker (77); Corrie-veteran Sherrie Hewson (67); astrologist Russell Grant (66); former Emmerdale star Claire King (55); hard-living pop star Shaun Ryder (55); Gogglebox’s Sandra Martin (55); Sid Owen, aka Riiickaaaaaaay, a stripling at 45; and Methuselah’s direct descendent and professional Dot Cotton-lookalike June Brown, a remarkably sprightly 90.
Read Jamie Oliver's tips on how to stay young
Before the series started shooting, each celeb underwent a series of tests to determine their face age, body age and brain age. The idea for the show is that between them, the celebrities can lower these three categories by a total of 100 years during their three-week stay in HMP Saladville. But first, the celebrities have to discover the results of their tests. Some of the celebs are worried their poor diet or lack of exercise might influence their results. Not so Shaun, who understandably chooses to focus instead on a history of addiction to crack cocaine and heroin. That’ll probably age you somewhat. And sure enough, he’s got a face age of 64, and a brain age and body age of 73. Sandra, who has takeaway for every single meal, and never exercises, has a body age of 69 and a brain age of 86. Meanwhile Russell has an impressively youthful brain age of 52. “There’s going to be a big but coming,” he cries. (Or did he mean ‘butt’?) And lo, his body is 85.
Most remarkable of all is June Brown, who has been a heavy smoker for 72 years, but still seems as fit as a spring lamb, and with a brain age of 59. Unlike the others, her task on the camp will be to put on some weight. That’s not easy when the diet is as meagre and appealing as a bowl of twigs, and not helped by June’s fanatical exercise regimen and habit of having a ciggie for breakfast.
The grub is “worse than jail food,” complains Sandra – well, what do the Italians know about cooking, eh? I’ve been many times, and you can’t get a Pot Noodle for love nor money. But never mind the food, most of the gang seem more exercised about the ban on booze. Indeed, they appear to have laid their hands on some contraband. They’re caught in the act, though, by nutritionist and hatchet-faced disciplinarian Thorbjorg Haftsteinsdottir, who tackles the problem with all the gentle good humour of a sleep-deprived PE teacher.
The next day sees the gang having snails put all over their faces. This is because they release an enzyme that combats wrinkles. Oh no, hang on, this is because it looks absurd and funny for the cameras, and has the paper-thin veneer of a bit of research suggesting snail slime combats ageing. Speaking of making sport out of the celebrities’ predicament, several of them are sent for a coffee enema. That involves having 2.5 litres of coffee (hopefully not scalding hot) pumped into their colons.
It’s no holiday then, this lark. They might not live longer as a result of it, but with this regime, it’ll certainly feel longer. And yes, I’m aware that joke is old enough to go on a health retreat to Sardinia.
The best… and the rest
Sunday 25th February
Hannibal’s Elephant Army: The New Evidence, 8pm, Channel 4: Scientists reveal new information about the elephantine journey that Hannibal took through the Alps, shedding light on how this near impossible task was completed. (Spoiler: they used jet packs).
Top Gear, 8pm, BBC Two: New series of petrol-porn. Matt LeBlanc and co embark on a high-octane road trip across the Wild West, while Rob Brydon is the star in the reasonably priced car.
Strike 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: First of a two-part series with Tom Burke returning as DI Cormoran Strike in J K Rowling’s police thriller, also starring Holliday Grainger.
Monday 26th February
Winter Road Rescue 1/4, 8pm, Channel 5: Following the emergency services as they help motorists who have got stranded in the snow. Presumably gripping viewing for some.
Masterchef 1/25, 9pm, BBC One: It’s time for us all to brush up on our veloutés and our quenelles as a brand new bunch of amateur chefs enter the hallowed Masterchef kitchen determined to deconstruct the good old British crumble. Gregg and John look on, their faces transfixed in a rictus of horror.
The Unstoppable Flying Scotsman 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: Engineer Rob Bell presents a two-part series investigating why this fabulous old engine has become the most famous locomotive in the world.
Electric Dreams: The Father Thing, 10pm, Channel 4: Return of the Philip K Dick anthology series, with this episode featuring Greg Kinnear as a father who just doesn’t seem quite right to his son. Could it be linked to an alien invasion of Earth? (It’s a sci fi series, of COURSE it could!)
Tuesday 27th February
The Secrets of the National Trust 1/12, 8pm, Channel 5: Hurrah. Alan Titchmarsh returns with a new series exploring some of the great treasures of this fabulous British institution. Tonight he’s at the 16th-Century Derbyshire mansion of Hardwick Hall.
Read our interview with Alan Titchmarsh
Alan Titchmarsh’s favourite National Trust gardens
How to Get Fit Fast 1/2, 8pm, Channel 4: Anna Richardson and Amar Latif look at the various ways and means of turning yourself from lardy, sofa-bound lump to chiselled Adonis in a matter of seconds. Warning: May require exercise: Next!
Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby, 9pm, BBC Two: Giles Coren and Monica Galetti have to drag themselves kicking and screaming to report back from a luxury eco-retreat on Tetiaroa in French Polynesia. The modern day equivalent of coal mining.
The FGM Detectives, 10pm, Channel 4: Channel 4 News’ indomitable Cathy Newman presents this sobering look at the barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation that is said to effect 137,000 people in England and Wales.
Wednesday 28th February
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, 8pm, BBC Two: Return of the trusty property series that allows Caroline Quentin, architect Piers Taylor, and those all-important cameras, inside some of the architectural gems a few lucky people call home. Tonight, four houses in Portugal vie for attention.
The Supervet, 8pm, Channel 4: More lifesaving treatment for some of our furry friends from the best in the business.
American Crime Story 1/9, 9pm, BBC Two: On July 15 1997, fashion designer Gianni Versace was gunned down outside his Miami home. This nine-part series, from the makers of The People vs OJ Simpson, joins the dots and fills in the blanks.
My Violent Child 1/4, 9pm, Channel 5: Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus encounters some troubled families to find out why some of the kids are exhibiting violent behaviour. Tonight, she meets Debbie and her eight-year-old Joe, whose violent outbursts are so extreme, the family has become almost housebound.
Thursday 1st March
Civilisations 1/9, 9pm, BBC Two: Historian Simon Schama looks at human history, and economic, cultural and social progress, through the prism of art, in what is effectively an updating of Sir Kenneth Clark’s epic 13-part series from almost 50 years ago.
Friday 2nd March
The Yorkshire Steam Railway: All Aboard 1/3, 8pm, Channel 5: A gentle three-part series pootling about on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, meeting those who work and travel on it.