Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious: Sod the Big Allotment Challenge, Bring on The Great British Moan Off
Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious: Sod the Big Allotment Challenge, bring on the Great British Moan Off
THE BBC seems intent on presenting Britain as a land of twee crafting-obsessed hobbyists whose interests differ only marginally from those of 1950s housewives and labourers making the most of their one day off before the moustachioed factory boss forces them to sever another figure in the lathe. Having only recently finished another bombardment from The Great British Sewing Bee and it’s less soporific sibling The Great British Bakeoff, BBC2 has once again reheated the format for the less boastfully titled Big Allotment Challenge.
The last time allotments were a source of dramatic tension, Arthur Fowler – the limpest lothario in Eastenders history – was keeling over on one after a string of increasingly depressing story lines that began with him nicking the Christmas Club money to pay for his equally miserable offspring Michelle’s marriage to man called Lofty. The benefit in that case was that at least it truthfully reflected the general British experience of allotments – rain, misery, disappointment and death. The Big Allotment Challenge is, unfortunately, a lot perkier.
Eighteen actual human beings were thrown into paroxysms of delight at the sight of a patch of dirt. These were the allotmenteers – not a real word, clearly scrawled on a white board by a ‘creative’ at New Broadcasting House – who ranged from Kate and Eleanor who use llama manure to perk up their soil to Harshani the hippie who mithered on about how the phases of the moon related to her veg growing. Mercifully the fifteen weeks of growing, nurturing and hanging about were condensed into a series of montages leading up to Show Day.
In a modern Britain wear front page stories warn of families reliant on food banks it was painful to watch middle class folk fretting about their radishes while Fern Britain hovered beside them proffering platitudes. And just as Fern fulfilled the punning, patronising space usually occupied by Mel and Sue on Bakeoff, TBAC as BBC ‘creatives’ have no doubt dubbed it, had its equivalents of Berry and Hollywood. Former royal gardener Jim Buttress – is Balmoral really just a bloody big allotment? – is gruff but granddad-like. Jumped up florist, Jonathan Moseley, howls about “horrific” bouquets while Thane Price is, apparently, a “preserves expert”. Could I get in on that? I know how to pick a good marmalade.
With the allotments already dug, weeded and pristine for the contestants and challenges as pre-determined as an X Factor audition, there was ironic lack of dirt and grit to the show. That W1A was mocking this kind of lazy format reheating with its own Britain’s Tastiest Village just a few weeks ago says it all. This was North London-dwelling BBC producer’s idea of what ‘real’ British people like. I remain convinced that Fern Britton was chosen to present merely as an act of forced nominative determinism.
To save the Beeb time cooking up its next take on this tired format, here’s my suggestion: The Bloody Great Big British Queue Off: each week a generically diverse set of Brits stand in a queue, not sure what they’re queuing for or whether they’ve correctly filled in the forms they were instructed to bring. We could get Jerry Paxman to present, shouting ever more irate statements through a public address system as the contestants are soaked through by a thin, driving rain. The judges would rate them on the quality and originality of their complaints and their choice of unsuitable wet weather wear. Or, you know, just do one about bloody knitting.