I'm no social or cultural historian, as if you hadn't noticed already, but I do take an interest in fashions and fads; in particular the question of whether the sort of fads that seem to grip the nation are dictated by what people actually want to wear, watch or listen to, or whether there's some kind of conspiracy by higher powers to see what people can be made to wear, watch or listen to. I can understand the popularity (past or present) of X Factor, Downton Abbey, Masterchef, Ugg Boots, Take That in boy and man incarnation, jeans tucked into boots (Uggs or otherwise), small plates of food and pop-up restaurants and cinemas. I can even just about comprehend the very short lived fad of staying up half the night to watch some hatchet-faced Scottish Grandmother win a Curling medal at the Winter Olympics (it was only a one-night thing, after all). I'm not sure why my 'Dead Pool', in which one predicts which celebrity deaths will occur over the next twelve months has not caught on yet, but it's got time to become a fad that'll grip the nation, and my next blog will feature the crop for 2012.
The latest TV fad seems to be the travel + food-umentary, and it looks as though everyone's cottoned on to this sure-fire ratings winner. The Hairy Bikers, Oz and James, Jamie Oliver, Michael Portillo, Ade Edmondson, Rick Stein, some posh twit mates of Hugh F-W, Rory McGrath and Paddy McGuinness and the soap dodger from single-serious curate's egg 'One Man and his Camper-van'.
The premise is quite simple, and by this, I mean cheap. It involves a man, or maybe a couple of men, or sometimes even three men, driving around Britain, meeting local people, usually doing a bit of cooking along the way and generally reminding us what a great place this island nation is to live. The rules seems fairly simple, and consist of the following:
1. A regional stereotype must be wheeled out at every opportunity.
2. The vehicle in which the man/men travel around the country must be 'vintage', ideally caravan/campervan.
3. Any cooking must be done on location, ideally using a mini-stove from said campervan.
4. (optional) - some kind of challenge might be involved, presumably to add a competitive edge. This might involve the protagonists needing to cook only food that they can catch/barter/work for/steal. It is never explained why this should be necessary.
A perfect example of how one can cram all three of the above rules into just 5 minutes of television came from the truly awful 'Ade in Britain', starring Ade Edmondson. This show seems to have been put together simply because someone thought the title was good, and there's only one famous Ade out there of course, which at least keeps him in work. One stop on Ade's trip was Morecambe. He pulled up in his Mini Cooper, complete with small cavannette/stove being dragged behind. He visited a local man that made potted shrimps, obtained the recipe, re-created it from his very own camper-stove before feeding the fruits of his labour to four buck-toothed men from the George Formby appreciation society (we knew this because they each had a ukelele); all this took place in the shadow of the Eric Morecambe statue.
Why has there been a sudden explosion of TV shows of this kind? Has there been an outcry from the public, demanding a fusion of game-show, travel and al fresco culinary travails? Or have a group of media moguls suddenly come to the same conclusion that this is what our screens have been missing? Or are they just cheap, and require little or no budget/planning? I think I know which one it is.
Hugh F-W seems to have had the best idea, in that he doesn't even appear in his latest culinary road-trip. Instead, three snaggle-haired photogenic posh-boys hammer round the South West in (you guessed it) a camper-van, with no money, eating only food they have earned, before cooking it all up on a ring-burner in the back of their vehicle. Hugh merely provides a voice-over, and even that looks to associate him a little too closely with this rot.
I await the next installation of the format with baited breath. 'Bruce's Britton' perhaps, featuring Bruce Forsyth and Fern Britton. Bruce and Fern drive around the country in a 1973 Austin Allegro, compete with the sort of caravanette you used to win on Bullseye. They visit artisan food producers, but can only eat the food if they manage an arm-wrestle win. Voice-over by Vernon Kay. I'd watch it. Wouldn't you?