Blogs Culture House Daily

Monty Don, Kirstie Allsopp and Bear Grylls – we get the TV shows we deserve

22 May 2014

6:04 PM

22 May 2014

6:04 PM

We’re now on day three of the Chelsea Flower Show, and this year the BBC have taken their coverage to the max. As well as the quotidian hourly slot with Monty Don, Joe Swift and newcomer Sophie Raworth, in the week preceding the show we were also treated to the daily Countdown to Chelsea.

What is it that makes the public so interested in gardening that we are willing to watch so much of it? Gardening is, for the most part, about scrabbling around in the mud and digging up weeds. But that’s the point. If this were a country where the majority of people earned their keep by growing plants – ie arable farming – it’s unlikely that watching other people do the same would make for enjoyable viewing. I mean, when you’ve finished a hard day’s work, the last thing you want to do is re-live that day on TV.


The same applies to so much of our prime-time viewing. The whole concept of The Great British Bake-Off, for example, revolves around the fact that baking is now an entertaining pastime, rather than something we do daily in order to feed our families. Kirstie Allsopp’s many craft and restoration programmes work along the same lines, as does The Great British Sewing Bee. Skills that were once universal have become minority entertainment activities, or things that only your grandmother knows how to do.

Before anyone accuses me of abandoning the female cause, it’s certainly not just activities traditionally seen as ‘female’ that are now being classed as entertainment. Bear Grylls’ most recent television venture, The Island, has a similar premise – dumping a group of men on a desert in a bid to find out whether they have ‘lost the ability to be practical – even when their lives depend on it’. In this country, that might well be seen as entertainment. But in other parts of the world, having to boil water before you drink it is a necessity, not something you watch others doing for fun. There are hundreds of these kinds of programmes – almost anything featuring Ray Mears (or Bear Grylls), for example, as well as the classic ‘watching paint dry’ programmes like Changing Rooms and Ground Force.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. I might not know how to crochet a pair of mittens, but I do know how to upload a YouTube video, and edit a podcast. I would probably prefer to know how to crochet, but the skills I have are the ones that are more likely to be helpful in life. At the same time, however, it’s interesting how what we watch on the telly is affected by the prosperity of the nation. I bet The Island isn’t half as popular in the Amazon as it is in Acton.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Terry Field

    The writer misses the key point. We lived with nature and were a part of it.
    We loved it.
    These programmes satisfy that echo-memory, as we sit in front of the telescreens and eat our fried marsbars or macrobiotic stewed insects, according to preference.
    Being bright chaps we have a clever little preference filter system when it comes to memory.
    Hence our strange aversion to programmes on how to replicate hemorrhagic fever, or how to avoid black death, cholera etc.
    Few programs succeed when they cover the pleasure of the open sewer and the means of draining it.
    ‘Mix your own Ebola culture’ bombed when the BBC piloted it last year. proves my point.
    Not doing something does not automatically fun. Think voting Labour for a good example of that.

  • Simon Fay

    On the one hand I have done nothing to deserve the awful born-to-rule Kirstie Allsopp. On the other hand I have never had a chance to earn a bit of Sophie Raworth…

    • Terry Field

      Sophie sends me night messages……………………………………………………..

  • Tim

    On the one hand… But on the other…

    You paid by the word ?

    • Camilla Swift

      If only I were

  • Alan Wesson

    I have just emigrated to France to get away from this kind of garbage. Lazy, cheap, shoddy, dumbed-down, populist, mass-market, low-brow pap designed for the masses. Bread and circuses. French TV seems to be relatively unafflicted (or at least further back along the continuum), although by and large (as with British TV) I have better things to do with my life than watch it.

    • Ricky Strong

      Gardener’s World is certainly not for the masses, and as to how you could make it ‘low-brow pap’ is intriguing – perhaps replace pollination with ‘this plant shags that plant?

      I too have any better things to do with my life, but I do allow myself three TV shows a week, no more no less, if indeed ‘show’ is the right word for them.

    • Terry Field

      I exited the Black Island a long time ago.It is a delight not to be there.
      The degeneration that is everywhere in Britoland is unknown in my part of the world.
      I still watch Gardeners World, and note it has been reduced to 30 minutes, to give more room for:
      Housing programmes
      Cooking programmes
      Cretinous Sunday morning vox pop programmes where Islamisists and Atheists gang up on the gay CofEers. That’s a real hoot, and I do not miss it as I eat my excellent boiled eggies.
      Then I dance round the Garden, happy as Larry that I am a million miles away from the nightmare Island.

  • Ricky Strong

    People often ask what makes me feel English or British – my love of gardening is a firm part of it. It’s in the blood, it’s innate.

    And with regard to Monty it is wonderful to see quintessentially English characters on TV, makes me feel I’m not alone.

    • mitate

      what, you mean that quintessentially english character who is never seen in anything other than diligently-distressed french laboureur’s clothes?

      • Ricky Strong

        Do my Italian jeans have any bearing on my nationality?

        • mitate

          only if you want them to. clothes are such an intensely personal thing.

          • Ricky Strong

            Monty may draw inspiration from where he choses, I suspect he bought his clothes sometime in the 70/80s and they so happen to still fit. He really does not strike me as a man who cares firstly in what he wears and secondly in what others think of him.

            • mitate

              they’re a crucial component of a carefully-crafted ascetic, son of the soil, image. and he’d be almost unique among presenters if he didn’t care what others think of him.

              • Ricky Strong

                I have no doubt the BBC ask him to tweak hear and there. After reading his book ‘The Jewel Garden’ I believe I caught a glimpse of who he really is: and that is a man who is more concerned about the coming of spring and the impending depths of winter, This mans life is his family and his gardening. I truly find it interesting how anyone could think that Monty would care so much about such triviality as clothing.

                • mitate

                  he’s bbc. nuff said. can’t wait for the pay dirt (gardening, geddit) on alan. and there is absolutely nothing trivial about clothing. clothing says far, far more about people than their houses, cars…or gardens!

      • Terry Field

        My neighbours do not disport themselves in such elegant attire.

        They wear one-piece, nylon, central zip-up, all weather multi-coloured ‘jump-suit type jobbies.

        Vive la diff!

        A bas avec Hollande.

        Méfiez-vous des Anglais et leur Prince Noir, Miliband!