Category Archives: Kids TV

Total Wipeout: Mud, sweat & big red balls

a vision of masculinity for 2011When I was watching the splendid Just William recently, it occurred to me that the Outlaws, strutting along, chests stuck out with the bravado of the young buck, mouths bigger than their short trousers, blagging and boasting about being bigger and cleverer than they actually are, reminded me of a youthful version of the Top Gear presenters. That vision of masculinity for the twenty-first century: Clarkson, Hammond and May.

Now Top Gear was not a programme that crossed my mental path very often. Before I had a son, that is. Now I get the full gamut of things I’d almost certainly never have thought of watching – Top Gear, Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab, James May’s Toy Stories – and Total Wipeout.

My son adores all the Top Gear presenters, and refers to them by their first names, as if they were his mates. Actually, despite the many appalling, reprehensible things about Top Gear, (petrolhead politics, casual sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, cultural insensitivity), I do quite enjoy it. It’s frequently offensive, but can also be funny.

And Toy Stories, the series where James May revisited classic toys of his youth, such as Lego, Meccano and Hornby trainsets, with a crazy projects involving tons of volunteer help, can be fascinating, if at times slightly painful viewing, since May’s ‘delegation’ of tasks seemed to involve leaving a lot of young people doing all the hard work. The glorious lunacy of the Plasticine Show Garden made for the Chelsea Flower show by a raft of volunteers, of all ages and ethnicities, almost had me in tears.

But it’s Richard Hammond who is ubiquitous, presenting a ridiculously large number of children’s shows. And my son’s favourite, the Endemol-produced Total Wipeout, returns for a new series  starting Saturday, 6pm. Primetime family viewing. There’ll be no escape. The format is that presenters Hammond and the beautiful, but merciless, Amanda Byram, watch various men and women boast of their athletic talent and sporting prowess, before mocking them trying to navigate the seriously difficult, water-based obstacle course in Buenos Aires (no, I have no idea why it’s held there either). So you see pride coming before a series of, frankly nasty, falls. Off floating mats  into cold water, ‘punched’ until flat on their faces in mud, bouncing off giant red balls like rag dolls. It’s like an elongated, sadistic It’s a Knockout course, with the Jokers being the two people staying dry and doing sarcastic voiceovers. Continue reading

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Just William: ‘Strordinarily good

I’ve categorised this under kids’ TV, because it’s being shown on CBBC, but having watched it with my eight year old (who thought it was funny, but sidled out of the room when William Brown was being toyed with by the Machiavellian six-year-old in petticoats Violet Elizabeth Bott), I think there may be an awful lot more adults watching it.

The stories have been taken from the books written by the dry, witty, and generally splendid Richmal Crompton (who is top of my fantasy, and I guess, ghostly, dinner party guest list) and turned into television scripts by the deft hand of Simon Nye. He has moved the action from the 1930s into the 1950s, and downgraded the social class of the Brown family a little. But it works. The stories are marvellous of course. And there are are some very good performances from the rest of the Brown family: minxy temptress, sister Ethel, trying-to-be-cool but failing brother Robert (last seen as Dudley Dursley –  and what a transformation), and the long-suffering parents, played nicely by Rebecca Front and Daniel Ryan.

And it’s a double treat for those of us who adore the perfect voice of Martin Jarvis above and beyond any other human being (he’s loaded on my MP3 player and ‘reads’ my bedtime/insomnia stories of PG Wodehouse and Just William), because he gets to narrate this too.

Many of us remember the memorably lisping Bonny Langford as Violet Elizabeth Bott in the TV series from 30 odd years ago. This time the formidable young miss is Isabelle Blake-Thomas. And, on balance, I prefer this equally terrifying, but slighter lower key version. Her parents are sauce magnate Mr Bott, and wife, in some damn fine hats, played by Caroline Quentin.

I’m not sure how many of these have been made, for they have gone straight onto my ‘favourite’ list on i-player. And William Brown remains my all time favourite boy character.

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Kick ass women: Hedy Lamarr

I knew Austrian born Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Kiesler) was a very beautiful and talented actress, but I didn’t know the woman was also a whip smart, genius inventor. And how did I discover this? A pub quiz (unlikely, I don’t go out after dark), from a book (‘Women Who Dared’)? I have such a book but that wasn’t how I found out. It was in fact, from watching Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention with my son. In the way Newsround brilliantly explains complicated issues to children, Wallace & Gromit’s World of Adventure does the same with sciency/invention stuff. Bitesized and predigested, like Brodie’s Notes. Perfect for me.

So now I know Hedy Lamarr, along with composer, George Antheil, invented something that enabled ‘frequency hopping’ of radio signals, using piano rolls. It was brilliant and could prevent U-boat radio signals being intercepted by the enemy during the war. Or would have done if the numpties in the military had not failed to believe that a girl, let along a film star beauty, could be smarter than all of them placed end to end. It wasn’t until much later, 1962, that her patented secret communication system was used, during the Cuban crisis. 

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Junior MasterChef: just what the doctor ordered

I have to confess I’ve not been keeping up with Junior MasterChef, so I was delighted to tune in today and see that talented Amber has got through to the semi-finals, alongside some other excellent cooks, George, Georgie and Hadra. And if that wasn’t thrilling enough -the second challenge involved climbing into the TARDIS and being transported to the telly studios in Cardiff where Dr Who is being filmed, so the young chefs could cook lunch for Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. I’m a grown woman and I was beside myself with excitement, so the young people must have almost exploded.

Dishes that were cooked were the actors’ favourites and included steak, chips, duck with pancakes, banoffi pie and ginger pudding. Not all went according to plan. The toffee for the banoffi went all floppy. The bearnaise for the steak was too sloppy. But Amber’s ginger pudding and *custard (the first time she’s ever cooked it) looked perfect.

*the first time I tried to make custard, it set like concrete on top of a trifle probably because I used to find the reading of measurements rather baffling

Pauseliveaction and I happened to exchange texts when I was watching it, and she said she was pleased, since she feels that Matt Smith could do with feeding up a bit. He and Karen/Amy were utterly charming. It was all entirely endearing. Even John Torode and Nadia Sawalha donned dashing scarves and looked really thrilled to be on the Dr Who set.

Tomorrow, the kids cook for JLS and Charlie Higson. I’m sure they’ll all be brilliant. But I’m still rooting for Amber!

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Junior MasterChef: the sweet side of Mr T

I would fondly like to imagine I could have been on Junior MasterChef, had it been around in the 70s. My copy of My learn to cook book had food splatters on many pages; not just the recipes for coconut ice and ice cream sundaes. I baked the family Christmas cake every year (I don’t think it ever got eaten. I’m not sure the icing was penetrable without the use of power tools). I even cooked the family roast in my teens. Best not to linger on the unmitigated disaster of the gravy though. Not worth the salt of my tears, to misappropriate a Norma Waterson line.

But chicken laksa? Goats’ cheese and caramelised onion tart? Smoked salmon risotto? None of that. Some of the youngsters on the new series of Junior Masterchef have been coached perhaps a little too much by eager family and friends.

The Junior series is based in the same kitchens as adult MasterChef but with a jolly makeover, involving brightly coloured stuff around the place, and beanbags instead of sofas for the contestants to sit on. John Torode is avuncular and cuddly. He begins by giving the young people a masterclass in making Toad in the Hole before letting them have a go at cooking it. He then judges their efforts with Nadia Sawalha, who has the remarkably perky, up-beat temperament of a crisp meringue.

They clearly create a positive environment, because the contestants cook well and seem really proud of their achievements, as indeed they should. No-one knocks their batter to the floor, as I would have done, or leaves out a key ingredient, like the time I omitted flour from chocolate-chip cookies, which essentially meant I made a sweet, chocolate oven omelette, that not even the dog would touch.

Thanks to Shine Ltd for pic of Amber

I was, however, shocked when Mr Torode told the contestants to prick their sausages before cooking them ‘so they don’t explode’. Rubbish! He clearly needs to watch a bit of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Nigel Slater to catch up a bit. Not the modern method at all – you only needed to do that with rubbish bangers full of cheap filler.

When the kids cooked their own dishes, it got a lot more fancy than Toad in the Hole. Except for Amber, who cooked food that seemed to fit her character and age better than some of the others. Amber, India Fisher tells us (yes, she’s still narrating) recently cooked up £800 at a Jewish charity fundraiser. She has a similar shape to me at her age and I really warmed to her. At one point she says earnestly to camera: “I needed to get my onions a bit more floppy” bless her. She cooked tasty fried potato latkas, lovely herby meatballs and a smashing looking chocolate, cream and raspberry roulade. Not fancy, but they require skill, and she clearly knows her way around the brightly coloured kitchen implements.

Anyway, they all did really well, but the lovely Amber won, which made my day.

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Saucy sorcery

sarah pInklet is concerned he will have nightmares after viewing Merlin, so instead of seeing it Saturday evenings, we snuggle in bed Sunday mornings with tea and biscuits and watch it in on i-player.

My teenage objects of desire keep turning up on the show, which makes for marvellous family entertainment as far as I’m concerned.

a headAs a regular, we have Anthony Head as the idiot Uther Pendragon. Fool he may be, but the man is still yummy. I’ve always had a thing about his sexy mouth. Which is a shame, because it went to horrible places last week. Predictably, he ended up snogging Sarah Parish, but less predictably, she was in full stinky, green-breathed troll mode (her ‘beautiful damsel’ makeover had slipped thanks to Merlin’s meddling with her potion).

And what a great troll that woman made. The best proponent of method-acting farting I’ve ever seen. As is always the case in Merlin, all ended up well, tho’ Uther was a bit embarrassed when the enchantment that had been placed on him wore off and he realised what he’d been getting down and dirty with someone who chewed horse manure as a midnight snack. Not the kind of dirty he’d hoped for I imagine.

charles danceAnd to my pleasure, this week, on strode a delightfully butch and booted Charles Dance. Playing Aredian the Witchfinder, he has been invited by Uther to weasel out the source of the sorcery after, in a moment of boredom, Merlin had turned smoke from a fire into a rearing horse. Aredian is actually a nasty bit of work, a bounty hunter who uses trickery and torture to gain ‘confessions’.  He is but seconds away from having court physician, Gaius (Richard Wilson) burned at the stake before Merlin saves the day. Charles Dance spews a toad and then falls to his death out of a stained glass window.

This really is a show with its tongue in its cheek and an excellent twinkle in its eye.

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Raven: Ruffled Feathers

raven_water_800I’ve had ravens on the brain of late. I’m pleased that my son has returned to watching Raven on CBBC, because there aren’t many children’s programmes where mothers can legitimately enjoy a man striding about dramatically in black leather spouting nonsense about ‘The Way of the Warrior’. Yes of course it’s overacting to an absurd degree, but somehow James Mackenzie manages to do it without looking like an arse. 

merlinThe second raven has come about via the welcome return of a new series of Merlin on BBC1 Saturday evenings. Both Harry Potter and Agatha Christie films feature a roll call of Great British Actors that frankly become intrusive and irritating. You can’t escape into a film where you’re star-spotting. But Merlin seems to feature some really good actors (Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson as Gaius and the voice of John Hurt as the Great Dragon) without making a fuss about it.

Mackenzie Crook was in episode one, playing a petty thief whose body gets taken over by the spirit of Cornelius Sigan. He is an evil sorcerer whose symbol is a raven. What it is about these birds?

I kept expecting Crook to take his eye out a la Pirates of the Caribbean, but other than that, he plays Evil incarnate blindingly well and facial hair rather suits him. I also like the fact that the main actors in Merlin (Colin Morgan as Merlin, Bradley James as Arthur, Angel Coulby as Guinevere) are young, unknown and rather cute.  But best of all, I like a Saturday evening programme that we all watch as a family, clutching cushions en masse to our faces during the scary bits.

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