My flat is quite small. Nonetheless, I was able to run the vacuum cleaner all around it during the third episode of The Jump (C4 Sunday, onwards) in between two skeleton time trials. And that included me unsheathing the nozzle and getting in at some corner bits. This is a show with a strong premise – celebrities undertake Alpine sports – but, unlike the events themselves, there’s not a huge amount of momentum. That’s because, due to logistics, all the racing bits have to happen in the past tense, robbing them of any immediacy. A hunching-from-the-cold Davina McCall links into the clips, and even Barry Davies’ perfectly compiled commentary has a slight shopworn tinge to it. In the show’s opening episode there was a lot said about the importance of aggression on the slopes, but there was not so much in the production. At the end, Ritchie from 5ive was left facing the jump. Which of the three would he select? “I’m only signed off for the small jump”, he said.
But, to business: Dragons’ Den (BBC2 Sunday, 9pm) and TV’s most preposterous title sequence is back. Five middle-aged superheroes (“Telecoms expert, Peter Jones!”), assembling on green-screened rooftops to survey a composited-in later cityscape. Meanwhile somewhere below street level lurks Evan Davis, ready to lean into the pro forma script he’s been delivering since 2005. “Cash-hungry entrepreneurs,” he says. Actually, I paint the picture as though Evan’s in situ on the same day as Peter, Duncan and the rest. There’s no evidence of that whatsoever. He now has no interaction with any other person in the programme. For him it must simply be a weird day at the BBC studios in Salford, talking about stuff he wasn’t there for, then jumping into the voiceover booth to deliver a script that presumably doubles-up for whomever is signing for the deaf.
Despite the disconnection in the Den, the programme is fun. The Dragons themselves aren’t especially witty, more frumpishly fussy (“I’m irritated! Yes, I’m blinking irritated!” rails Deborah) and even relative youngster Piers seems like a fogey when he tries to celebrate with his new, twentysomething business partners. “Party on!” But the whole conceit of who will win, and how well they negotiate, will work forever. Plus, and I might be going out on a limb here, there always seems to be fastidious chat about poo. Perhaps I’ve just zeroed in on that since, some series ago, Peter shared the info that when he does one he calls it “big toilet”. Tonight, Deborah drilled down into the details of dog mess. “Often the consistency is not as tidy as you had down there,” says the leisure and marketing expert referring to some shit a cash-hungry entrepreneur had just pooper-scooped up from the Den floor.
The Restaurant Man (BBC2 Wednesday, 8pm) is another winner. Reminiscent of C4’s excellent but generically named Risking It All from about 10 years ago, this sees restaurateur Russell Norman advising folk who are attempting to open their own eateries. This week that was the pleasant duo of Rich and Matt who were launching an upmarket burger restaurant – 7Bone – in Southampton. “If we get the concept right,” reckoned Rich, “I personally think we can open up 10 units within five years”. But before that, there was the concern of whether or not the people of the Solent were ready for a place with stripped back walls.
Part of the strength of the programme was the way it presented a thoroughly unromantic view of the industry. When moustachioed Matt was taken for a stint at the grill in Byron Burger, London, head chef Fred revealed his secret to managing multiple beef patties: “You’ve got to be like a robot”. There was also a fascinatingly detailed discussion about the kind of ‘grind’ Rich and Matt were using on their mincer (10mm, in case you need that detail). In Norman, the show has a winning focal point. Tanned, wiry, permanently adorned with a satchel, he felt like a TV natural – someone expert and efficient, who just happened to have ended up in front of the camera.
On 7Bone’s opening night, all was fraught. By this point Matt was looking physically frail, his Dali ‘tache even losing its loopiness. To see him and Rich clashing over the inevitable mistakes that come on such an evening was a little harrowing. But it looks like the business is going to do well for them, and further ‘units’ will surely stalk the south coast.
Here’s a programme title that leaves no room for ambiguity: Hidden Histories: Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses (BBC4 Wednesday, 9pm). Like The Jump, it’s got a great premise, but in practice it’s… well, it’s a bit dull. The final episode in this three-part series traced the lineage of the Durtnell family of builders, who first got into the game in the 16th century.
But it’s full of horrible TV contrivances to try and manufacture some sort of through-line. We meet Alex Durtnell, who’s recently become the company’s chairman and chief executive and now – according to Margaret Mountford’s commentary (in which, slightly irritatingly, she delivers every sentence with a primary school teacher intonation) – “As he tries to come to terms in his new role as head of the business, Alex now wants to find out about its past.” Bet he doesn’t. I bet he’s just been approached by the production company and thought it would be a good thing to do. It gets worse. “Alex wants to find out how his grandfather Geoffrey got the business through the Second World War.” Maybe. “So he’s arranged to talk to Battle of Britain historian Robin Brooks…” He did? “…Who has told Alex to meet him at a wartime aerodrome called Detling.” Seriously?
There are some fascinating details within – the Durtnells failing to get into brick and mortar following the Great Fire of London, or the plight of Richard Durntell (the second) who nearly killed the business in the 18th century – and Alex himself is a likeable chap, albeit one who seems underwhelmed by every revelation. But, oh, still the tacking-together continues. “To get to know his grandfather better, Alex has found an interview Geoffrey made for the BBC 40 years ago. Alex has never listened to it before.”
Actually, I undersold Alex’s enthusiasm. There was a great bit where he found a manhole cover with the Durtnell name on it. He took a snap on his phone. It’s going to become his wallpaper.