TV blog: Mary Berry's Quick Cooking

Benjie Goodhart / 08 March 2019

Mary Berry has a ball in Italy, plus the rest of the week's TV highlights

Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking 1/6, Monday 11th March, 8:30pm, BBC Two

Hold on to your hats, people. I’m going to shock you. Mary Berry has never been to Italy. Let’s just digest that for a moment. The cradle of modern civilisation has never been visited by the apogee of modern civilisation. It just doesn’t seem right. You expect Mary Berry to have been everywhere. Well, not everywhere. I don’t think she’s done many Club 18-30 holidays in Magaluf. But you imagine she’s travelled extensively, done a grand tour like wealthy youngsters used to do in the 19th century, a sort of year off but with more culture and less putting beads in your hair and ‘finding yourself’ in Thailand. You can see her visiting places when they were called things like Ceylon, as well as all the great cultural and culinary capitals of Europe.

Yet here she is, in episode one of her new series, visiting the Eternal City for the very first time. Well knock me down with a wafer-thin slice of prosciutto crudo. And then wait for me to get up and knock me down all over again, because she’s riding around Rome on the back of a scooter. Mary Berry! On the back of a scooter!!! She should be in a luxury car. Or a horse-drawn carriage. Even better, a sedan chair. That’s a national treasure there, chum, she doesn’t belong on a scooter. Even worse, its driver is an Italian hipster, complete with shades, large beard, waxed moustache, earring and bow tie. If he was English, he’d run an underground-magazine-cum-deli in Hoxton.

Anyway, back on two feet rather than two wheels, Mary visits a restaurant serving pasta (thank goodness she was able to find one) where she joins two women who make 55 kilos of the stuff every day. There are over 350 varieties of pasta, apparently, which just shows that humans have too much time on their hands. I mean, they all taste pretty much identical, they’re just moderately different shapes and sizes. By that logic, there are over a trillion varieties of garden pea. Not that I mean to belittle the work of the woman at the restaurant who’s been making pasta for 40 years. I mean, sure, she’s wasted her life, but I watch telly for a living, so I’m not really in a position to judge anyone.

Next, she visits a pizza restaurant (again, kudos to the researchers, there can’t be more than 10,000 of them in Rome). Mary tells us 5 billion pizzas are eaten worldwide every year, which makes me think of two things. First, I’m definitely exceeding my quota, and second, who the hell works this stuff out? And how? If you think pasta woman and I are wasting our lives, somewhere out there is global pizza calculation officer.

Later, she visits a charming food market with a chef called Christina, who cooks her a dish made with sea urchins. “Who knew sea urchins were so delicious?” enthuses Mary. Well, me, for a start. I had them about 20 years ago in Sicily. So I guess that means I know more about food than Mary. I’d ask for my own series, but I don’t have as impressive a collection of flowery blouses or such white teeth.

In amongst all of these films, Mary cooks quick-and-easy dishes in her immaculately tasteful kitchen. Tonight’s recipes include pasta with parma ham and peppers, bruschetta, spaghetti vongole and tiramisu. The tiramisu she makes using instant coffee. Just as well this part of the show wasn’t filmed in Italy, or I’d fear for her safety.

Next week’s episode comes from Camp Bestival, a huge music festival in Dorset. If the idea that Mary Berry has never been to Rome is barely creditable, the idea that this is her first music festival is somewhat less of a shock. 

60 Days on the Street 1/3, Thursday 14th March, 9pm, Channel 4

From the sophisticated elegance of Mary Berry swanning around Rome looking impossibly chic, we go to a bloke called Ed sleeping on a pavement in the same pants for two months. It’s quite the shift in tone. I shouldn’t think Mary has ever even slept in a sleeping bag. (Somehow I don’t think she was slumming it in a two-man tent at Camp Bestival and queuing for the portable loos in the morning). It’s also a shift from a programme that is glossy and jaunty to something that is altogether darker and more distressing.

It cannot have escaped your attention, if your hometown is anything like mine, that homelessness is on the increase. There are more people sleeping rough today that at any time since World War II. In this three-part new series, explorer and TV presenter Ed Stafford spends 60 days sleeping on the streets, discovering the reality of life sleeping rough and getting to know the people who do so.

If his house is anything to go by, he’s going to have a steep learning curve. It’s rather large, and absolutely delightful, with its Aga and stone floor and big garden. He’s also got a young wife and baby son at home, though I’m not too worried about their safety, as he also has the two largest dogs I have ever seen. It’s as if a bear mated with a hippo.

He says an emotional goodbye to his wife, and a couple of hours later he’s living on the streets of Manchester. It must be a very weird new reality, not helped by the sight of some of the homeless community on ‘spice’. Spice is a synthetic drug that renders its users basically static and comatose. The camera shows one young man standing up on a busy pavement, bent double at the waist, not moving. Not for nothing is it known as the zombie drug.

It becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly, that this is not going to be an easy watch. On his first night on the street, Ed tags along with a friendly but steaming drunk man called Mark, who is keen to show him his begging spot outside a kebab house. Only, when they get there, it’s been taken. Negotiations ensue, and they’re not exactly diplomatic. Aggression, it seems, is a daily reality of homeless life. Eventually, Ed finds a doorway in which to bed down. He’s woken early the next morning by a street cleaner who sprays him with water. Of course, it’s an ‘accident’.

This is graphic and brutal stuff, real life writ large. If you prefer your telly to be a little bit more gentle and whimsical (and there’s nothing wrong with that) this might not be your cup of tea. There is violence, mental illness and drug-abuse (until I saw this I thought a snowball was just Advocaat and lemonade). There’s also the kind of language you don’t get in Countryfile.

Ed encounters a range of characters, from mum-of-six Dina with her ‘luxury’ shelter by a police portacabin, to Steve, who claims to enjoy living on the street, having a few drinks and watching the world go by. “TV’s crap anyway,” he laughs. (Obviously this is a statement verging on the heretical, but I will let it pass). But then he meets Jeff, an educated, eloquent, well-read and sensitive soul, with whom he makes a connection. Jeff isn’t a drinker or on drugs, he’s just slipped through the net. Ed appalled that such a man can end up in such a situation. But, as ever with life on the streets, things aren’t exactly what they seem.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 9th March

The Queen Mum: The Reluctant Queen 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: A look at the pivotal moments in the life of the Queen Mother, not least among them being the abdication of Edward VII in 1936, a moment that thrust her husband reluctantly onto the throne, and changed their lives forever.

Sunday 10th March

Crufts: Best in Show, 7pm: The pageant for pooches reaches its climax. Pedigree dog fans will be enthralled. The rest of us can look on in utter bafflement.

Midsomer Murders 1/2, 8pm, ITV: Return of the police drama that has, in the past, been accused of being a little silly. Fortunately tonight’s show, involving a cursed abbey, a new pub, and someone boiled to death in a kettle of beer, is entirely sensible. Elaine Paige guest stars.

Monday 11th March

The Choir: Our School by the Tower 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: Gareth Malone helps students create a concert to mark the re-opening of their building. But these aren’t just any students, they attend the Kensington Aldridge Academy. It exists in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, and five of their classmates died in the fire.

Cheat, 1/4, 9pm, ITV: Screening over the next four nights, this thriller follows a case of academic deception that spirals out of control with devastating results. Katherine Kelly and Molly Windsor star.

24 Hours in Police Custody, 9pm, Channel 4: The new series opens with a feature-length first episode, as police hunt for two separate rapists.

Wednesday 13th March

Kilimanjaro: The Bigger Red Nose Climb, 9pm, BBC One: A bunch of celebs haul their lardy and pampered bodies up Africa’s highest mountain in an eight-day climb to raise money for Comic Relief. The impressive roster includes Ed Balls, Shirley Ballas, Anita Rani, Dani Dyer, Alexander Armstrong and Dan Walker.

Critical Condition, 9pm, Channel 5: Another documentary series about life and work in a hospital, this time Stoke’s Royal University Hospital. Familiar.

Friday 15th March

Comic Relief, 7pm, BBC One: The biannual (unless that means twice a year, I can never remember) comedy charity fest makes a welcome return, regardless of what David Lammy might think. Highlights include a special one-off return of The Bodyguard, and One Red Nose Day and a Wedding, a sketch that reunites the cast of Four Weddings.

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