TV blog: Britain's Most Spectacular Backyard Builds

Benjie Goodhart / 16 June 2016

Eccentric inventors put their imaginations to the test in Britain's Most Spectacular Backyard Builds, and we look at the upcoming referendum coverage on offer.

Britain’s Most Spectacular Backyard Builds, Tuesday June 21, 8pm, BBC Two

Britain’s Most Spectacularly Cumbersome Programme Titles. I mean, what a mouthful. Imagine asking someone at work, over morning coffee, if they’d seen it? They’d be switching off the lights and locking up by the time you’d finished the question. So much quicker to ask them if they’d seen Corrie instead.

Which is a shame, as this is a rather lovely programme. One thing we Brits do better than any country in the world is glorious eccentricity. The Leave campaign would argue that we need to get out of Europe before we have our charming foibles standardised out of us, replaced by bureaucratic metric, Brussels-sanctioned standards of behaviour. On the other hand, left to our own devices, we might turn into a country of madcap inventors, and forget to run the NHS. Oh heavens, this referendum business has been going on so long now, I have to judge everything through the prism of European implications. Right, I promise not to mention Europe again today.

Anyway, this one-off show (for now, although I sense a series a-coming) goes in search of the best spot of backyard building in the country (as so laboriously explained in the title). That doesn’t mean your new barbecue, or your crazy-paving patio (which, by the way, was a mistake). It means something madcap and inventive, a piece of machinery conceived and built, by amateurs, in a shed.

Apparently presenters Sara Cox and architect Piers Taylor “have been scouring the country to find the very best backyard builders.” That must have been exhausting. Most programmes get researchers to do that. Anyway, they’ve managed to find three absolute corkers, the kind of inspired lunatics who you don’t know whether to make absolute monarch or have sectioned.

Nick and Carolyn, from the Isle of Wight, are building a fairground carousel that dispenses masses of sweets as it goes around. It’s all been inspired by their six-year-old granddaughter, who will doubtless still love her new toy when she’s 18. Stone, I mean. Sometime next year.

Meanwhile, in Sussex, two mates, Pete and Merv, are building a sort of Heath-Robinson-meets-Wallace-and-Gromit breakfast-making machine, that will present you with a newspaper, boil an egg, make your morning cuppa, and give you a slice of toast. It is a magnificent exercise in folly, a gift, they say, for their wives, to give them Sunday mornings off. The wives smile beatifically, but behind them is the exhausted knowledge that they’ll be lifting this contraption off their kitchen table and cleaning its six trillion constituent parts for the rest of their lives.

Finally, there’s sci-fi fan Stewart, in Northumberland, who’s making an enormous robot that he can sit in and operate, complete with giant claw hand and foam-bullet-firing gun. Because… well… because at heart, all men are about nine.

The groups are given ten weeks and £2,500 to complete their build. The results are glorious. Sara and Piers have to pick their favourite, but they are all things of spectacularly pointless magnificence. Vive la difference, as the Leave campaigners probably wouldn’t say. (Sorry, that’s the last mention of Europe, honest…)

See our picture story of Shed of the Year

EU Referendum programming, all channels, all the time, until we are left utterly broken, confused, and terrified by a future that almost guarantees imminent death

I say all Channels, but obviously I don’t mean Channel 5. At arguably the single key moment in our nation’s history in the last 50 years, they are tackling the issue head-on by allowing us to visit a house filled with vapid narcissists and flamboyant exhibitionists for the summer. (To be clear, I’m talking about Big Brother, not Today in Parliament).

Anyway, look, sorry, I know I promised not to mention Europe again, but there really is nothing else on this week. I mean, nothing. Once you take away Euro 2016 and the referendum programming, there’s nowt left. I’d end up having to preview Jeremy Kyle or something, and life is way, way too short for such repugnance.

Anyway, we’re in the home strait, people. June 23 is the big day (as if you didn’t know) and then we can all get back to watching some decent telly as Armageddon strikes, and we are killed in a European war/swamped by bloodthirsty immigrants (delete according to which hysteria you have adopted). But before that, we have one marathon night of referendumania.

The BBC is showing EU Referendum: The Result, from 10pm to 1pm. No, I didn’t miss a ‘1’ out there. It’s running until 1pm the following day. David Dimbleby will be injecting liquid caffeine into his eyeballs live on air. Accompanying him will be Jeremy Vine, analysing results, probably with some snazzy graphics and a baguette-shaped swingometer. Emily Maitlis will be interviewing politicians and European experts; economics editor Kamal Ahmed will be talking about, well, economics, I imagine. And political editor Laura Kuenssberg will be there, possibly wondering why Emily Maitlis is doing her job. Mystifyingly, there is no role for Gary Lineker.

Meanwhile, those lightweights a ITV will be going from 10pm to 6am, whereupon they’ll don their jammies and curl up in bed, allowing us to benefit, later in the morning, from the cogent political analysis offered by Jeremy Kyle and Lorraine Kelly. The ITV coverage will be anchored by Tom Bradby, with Julia Etchingham, Robert Peston, Allegra Stratton and James Mates alongside him in the studio. Not that it matters much – it’s a well-known fact that everyone watches big national events on the BBC.

Before all of this, the increasingly desperate and exhausted politicians will continue to slug it out like a couple of punch-drunk heavyweights. There’s a special Question Time on Sunday at 6:45pm on BBC One, as opposed to its traditional 10:45pm Thursday slot, so expect less sex and swearing. On the same channel, on Tuesday at 8pm, there is EU Referendum: The Great Debate, while the last word goes to Paxo on C4 on Wednesday at 9pm with Europe: The Final Debate with Jeremy Paxman.

Also on Channel 4, at 10pm on both the day before and the day after the vote, are special, up-to-the-minute episodes of the brilliant satirical comedy Ballot Monkeys, starring Jack Dee. He turns up again, not surprisingly, in Jack Dee’s Referendum Helpdesk, on Tuesday at 10pm on Two. Lastly, on Channel 4 at 9pm on Friday, the Last Leg team get their satirical chops around the result in The Last Leg In, The Last Leg Out.

Vote early, and vote often.

Read our coverage of the EU referendum

The best, and the rest:

Saturday June 18

The New Tate Modern: Switched On, 9pm, BBC Two: Andrew Marr and Brenda Emmanus join the opening celebrations of the rather excellent-looking extension to the Tate Modern.

Sunday June 19

Tennis: Queens, 2pm, BBC Two: The final of the tournament, hopefully featuring Andy Murray trying to win the title for a record fourth time. (Some idiot may have put fifth last week. Duh. Staff!)

Tuesday June 21

Tennis: Eastbourne, 1pm, BBC Two: With just days to go until Wimbledon,much of the tennis world descends upon the sleepy Sussex town for this WTA tournament featuring two-time Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, British No. 1 Johanna Konta, and five of the world’s top ten.

The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davies, 8pm, Channel 5: People rescue dogs. Um… watched by Alan Davies.

Mr and Mrs: Call the Mediator, 9pm, BBC Two: People going through divorces call in professional mediators to help them work out who gets the crockery/telly/towels/kids. Sounds rather dispiriting.

The Border, 10pm, Channel 4: Pacey Polish drama about border guards policing the frontier with Ukraine. When his patrol is killed in an explosion, Captain Rebrow comes under suspicion, and must fight to clear his name.

Wednesday une 22

Celebrity Masterchef, 8pm, BBC One: Want to know how former pop star Sinitta would fare against an Tommy Cannon at making a pea veloute? Then Christmas has come six months early.

Thursday June 23

What Britain Buys, 8pm, Channel 4: Referendum day. The entire country might very well be going down the tubes at this very moment. But fear not, here’s the reassuringly matriarchal Mary Portas to talk to us about our shopping habits.

Friday June 24

Oscar Pistorius: The Interview, 9pm, ITV: The former athlete, deemed too traumatised to answer questions at his recent hearing into the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, heroically manages to answer questions for the ITV cameras.

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