TV blog: Britain’s Best Home Cook

Benjie Goodhart / 25 April 2018

Mary Berry presides over a new cookery contest show. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Britain’s Best Home Cook 1/8, Thursday 3rd May, 8pm, BBC One

What would you do if I suddenly showed up in your kitchen, handed you a bowl of nuts and asked you to make an edible dish using them as the prime ingredient? I mean, obviously, the first thing you’d do is hit me over the head with a saucepan and phone to police to inform them that a complete stranger had broken into their house and was attempting to get you to cook them a meal. But in culinary terms, what would you do? If you’re anything like me, the dish you’d serve would be, well, a bowl of nuts. But if you see a raw ingredient like that and think ‘korma’ or ‘Swiss Roll’ or ‘satay’ then perhaps you’re the type of person who should audition for Britain’s Best Home Cook.

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This new eight-part series from the BBC sees ten enthusiastic domestic caterers going up against each other before one is left standing, triumphantly, wielding their rolling pin like a cudgel, while their vanquished opponents are scattered around them, unconscious on the floor. (NB This is simply a metaphor, unless the stakes are seriously upped a few notches as the competition goes on).

Proceedings are hosted by the kindly figure of Claudia Winkleman, who is as reassuringly warm and orange as ever. As far as the judges go, former market trader Chris Bavin plays the role of Gregg Wallace, chef Dan Doherty gives the panel some necessary culinary kudos, while the regal figure of none other than Mary Berry bestrides proceedings like a scrupulously polite and immaculately coiffured television colossus, dispensing homespun wisdom and tips, and destroying whole worlds with a raised eyebrow.

The contestants all live together in a shared house, where I suspect Deliveroo is rarely summoned. Each week, they are subjected to two tests – an ultimate home favourite round, and an improvisation round based on a specific ingredient. Then, the weakest cooks will go into an elimination round, before one of them will be asked to leave the competition, and forced to spend eternity clipping Mary Berry’s lawn with a pair of nail scissors.

The contestants include a compliance manager and a wine consultant, neither of whose jobs I understand, although I know which I’d rather do. There’s also a contestant called Q, who rather disappointingly doesn’t work designing lethal gadgets for James Bond, but is, instead, a children’s A&E nurse.

The first test is to cook a “burger with two sides,” which I found confusing, as all burgers have two sides, right? Turns out they mean side dishes. There is a wide range of burgers on display, featuring lamb, pork, turkey, prawn and various mixtures thereof. It’s an interesting exercise, though not as interesting as speculating whether Mary Berry has ever eaten anything as plebeian as a burger. Certainly, watching her eat them with a knife and fork, it would seem unlikely.

After the judgement, which seems to involve Claudia cuddling everyone repeatedly, the winner gets to choose the main ingredient for the second round. It’s not much of a choice – either berries or nuts. We’re not woodland creatures for goodness sake. What’s next week’s choice? Dock leaves or lichen?

Anyway, there’s a lot more cooking, and lot more cuddling, before the judges taste everything and then retire to consider their verdicts. I’m not going to reveal the results of their judging, but I can’t help but point out that someone gives Mary Berry a mug of tea during this process. A. MUG. Utterly scandalous. If anyone should be given their tea (preferably loose leaf) in a fine bone china cup and saucer, it’s Mary.  If I can overlook this regrettably gauche moment, I may be able to reconcile myself to watch the remainder of what promises to be a fascinating, warm, funny and delightful addition to TV’s culinary competitions. But please, no more mugs for Mary.

Prince Harry’s Story: Four Royal Weddings… Thursday 3rd May, 9pm, ITV:

Brace yourselves, this may come as something of a shock. Prince Harry is getting married. I KNOW!! What a surprise. Really flown beneath the radar, that one. His betrothed is a lovely American actress called Meghan. Exactly, I’d not heard a thing about her either. Luckily, ITV is here to bring us all up to speed this week with several programmes to do with Harry, royalty and the wedding.

I don’t know about you, but when I want to find out about anything to do with constitutional matters and state occasions, my first thought is almost invariably “What would Geri Horner, aka Geri Halliwell, aka Ginger Spice, have to say on this weighty subject?” So a big thank you must go to ITV for filling this particular void in my life.

As well as sourcing the opinions of stars of pop from two decades ago, this one-off documentary looks at the life of Prince Harry through the prism of various key events which, for the purposes of a snappy cultural reference, have been boiled down to four weddings and a funeral.

We start off with Charles and Di’s wedding on July 29th 1981 (I know the date by heart because I won a glass tankard with the date on it at a party on the village green in Bayworth, Oxfordshire). The most striking thing about the footage from that day is the phenomenal length of the train on Diana’s dress. I think it spanned several time zones. Nowadays, though, it would be interrupted in the middle by a rail replacement bus service due to engineering works.

There’s a look at Harry as a small boy who, it will surprise readers not a jot to learn, was a cheeky, mischievous and fun-loving little scamp. The divorce of his parents can’t have been easy, but what came next was unthinkable. Even today, more than 20 years later, it seems difficult to comprehend what happened that day, and what happened to the nation in the days that followed. There is discussion about the royal reaction to Diana’s death and about Tony Blair’s filling the void with his famous People’s Princess speech, and about the shattering experience of two small boys having to wear grief so publicly, walking behind the coffin of their adored mother. But perhaps most poignant of all is testimony from the family’s cook, who wanted to hug Harry and comfort him, but realised it would be crossing a line. Such are the burdens of royalty.

Harry’s indiscretions, too, are dealt with – from his drinking exploits to his inappropriately Teutonic fancy dress. But one truly shattering revelation comes to light here. In a pub near Highgrove, Harry used to sneak in and sing with a local band, and his favourite song to perform was “Rockin’ All Over the World” by Status Quo.

Harry had some growing up to do (even if his taste in pop music was decidedly middle aged) and his experiences travelling and working in Lesotho gave him a perspective and an empathy that he seems to have nurtured with admirable diligence. Then on to Sandhurst, where he was lucky enough to graduate in front of granny.

On we go, with no little haste, through deployment to Iraq, training as an Apache helicopter pilot, and his inspirational work to found and launch the Invictus Games. There are the other weddings from the title, including his father’s to Camilla, and his brother’s, another quiet little affair that has probably not come to your attention.  And the fourth, of course, is his own wedding, although the footage of that was far less satisfactory, on account that whole temporal, future-not-happened-yet thing. We learn about the first stirrings of romance with Meghan, and on to the trials they have faced together, including some disgraceful press intrusion and vile social media abuse, that they have handled with almost saintly poise and dignity.

There isn’t a vast amount here that we don’t already know, and telling a life story, particularly one as well-lived as this, in an hour (actually 45 minutes after they’ve tried to sell you cereal and toothpaste) is a tall order. But it’s a pleasing, thorough and well-researched portrait of an incredibly impressive, human and charismatic young man, and the forces that made him. All that, and Geri to boot. What’s not to love?

The best… and the rest

Sunday 29th April

Invitation to a Royal Wedding, 9pm, ITV: ITV counts down to the wedding of the year by going behind the scenes of some of the country’s most iconic royal weddings in recent memory, including those of Charles and Diana, William and Kate and Posh and Becks… Oh, apparently not the last one. Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham preside.

Monday 30th April

Tricks of the Restaurant Trade 1/6, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Simon Rimmer and Sophie Morgan return with more information to help us get the most out of dining out. Tonight – research and development at Starbucks, and some surprising cocktail news.

The Royal Wives of Windsor 1/2, 9pm, ITV: ITV continues to present itself as the most weddingest channel ever with this two-part documentary about the women who have married into the House of Windsor, and the changes they have wrought. Contributors include historians, broadcasters, biographers, journalists and insiders.

Tuesday 1st May

My F-ing Tourette’s Family, 9pm, Channel 4: Hayley and Richard Davies-Monk have two boys - Spencer (13) and Lewis (9) - with Tourette's syndrome. After years of keeping themselves to themselves, the family want to 'come out' to the world. From meals out to day trips and their first ever holiday abroad, the family confront the challenges of dealing with the everyday reality of living with Tourette's.

British Airways: 100 Years in the Sky 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: The first BA flight took to the skies in 1919. This two-part doc series examines the illustrious history of our national carrier, although early years were not exactly comfortable, with open cockpits, wicker chairs and no on-board toilets (thank goodness for the open cockpits, then…)

Wednesday 2nd May

Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport 1/6, 8pm, ITV: Return of the fly-on-the-wall documentary series about an airport, just like 2,400 fly-on-the-wall documentary series before it.

Friday 4th May

Friday Night Dinner 1/6, 10pm, Channel 4: Return of the sitcom that always takes place over Friday night dinner with the eccentric Goodman family, as they try to navigate their lives in spite of an eclectic and extraordinary collection of friends and relatives.

High and Dry 1/6, 10:30pm, Channel 4: This original new sitcom from Marc Wootton sees a group of survivors from a plane crash marooned together on a desert island, and is based on the idea that hell is other people. In the case of Brett, Wootton’s needy and love-starved Australian air steward, hell doesn’t even come close.

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