Anneka is back – and all that’s missing is her brick of a phone
dmg media (UK)
Challenge Anneka Channel 5, Saturday ★★★★★ Wild Isles BBC1, Sunday ★★★★★ Challenge Anneka is back, which won’t mean anything to anyone under 40. Challenge who? Why? Just as Game For A Laugh won’t, or Noel’s House Party, or Blind Date. You can try explaining, but in my experience they’re half out of the room before you’ve even made it to J.R. Hartley thumbing through the Yellow Pages to find his old book on fly fishing. ‘He found it!’ you may have to call out after them. Everyone deserves to know how a story ends. The original series, which began as a oneoff for Children In Need in 1987, aired on BBC1 from 1989 to 1995 and attracted an audience of, on average, 12million. The host was, and still is, Anneka Rice who, back then, wore a Lycra jumpsuit and often had the camera trained on her bottom because that’s how it was in the late 1980s/early 1990s. She had won Rear of the Year (1986), but those awards have since ceased and, the truth is, I find that upsetting as I’ll never win one now even though my bottom has never been in better shape. (I’m not just blowing my own trumpet – ask anyone.) It takes time, effort and self-discipline to achieve a bottom like this and, with no trophy now involved, I am starting to wonder why I bothered. I might just let it spread henceforward. The show’s format was this: each week Rice would be challenged to do something to make the world a better place, whether it was building a kids’ playground, making a charity record or converting an old church into a circus training centre. She would have no idea what the project was until she arrived on site, it would have to be completed within two or three days and, with her brick-like mobile phone, which we all envied, would have to blag labour and resources for free. The format was devised by Rice herself, which she then sold all over the world so she’s not, and has never been, just a pretty bottom. Channel 5 hasn’t meddled with it. The big blue and yellow truck, that’s returned. The beach buggy, that’s returned. ‘Dave the soundman’, who would often muck in, has even returned. (He calls her ‘Annie’; I don’t think I’d dare.) There is, though, no mobile phone as big as a brick, or all that manic thumbing through the Yellow Pages which, pre-internet, is what you had to do to find an electrician. (Come back so I can tell you about the Yellow Pages!) For the first episode we were at Foal Farm in Kent, an animal rescue centre that has cared for and rehomed thousands of dogs down the years but is overflowing and needs a new kennel block, a doggie play area and a proper grooming room. Anneka is as fizzy and enthusiastic as ever and quite miraculous, really. I’d kill for her energy. But I wonder if the show has lost some of its lustre. As a makeover show it was the first of its kind, even predating Changing Rooms and Ground Force, but now they’re two-a-penny in the schedules so it feels a bit tired in that respect. Also, as far as I could gather, she only blagged one set of items for free – some switches from a local electrical shop – so the builders and the landscapers and the kennel manufacturers, were they paid? Ought we to be told? On the other hand, have I simply become cynical with age? Look, it’s a kind-hearted show, and the lovely women who run the centre wept with joy at the end – was the outcome ever in any doubt? – plus we met some gorgeous doggos. Will it attract a new generation of viewers? Possibly, although nostalgia, I suspect, will be the main driver for many. I’m happy to sit in front of it. While my backside spreads. On to Wild Isles, David Attenborough’s look at the wildlife of Britain and Ireland, on the grounds that there’s plenty to see on your own doorstep, and when he sat surrounded by those puffins, did you feel tearful? Because, chances are, this might be the last time we see him on location, in chinos and cagoule? Tell you what, let’s just NOT think about that. The first of five parts was plainly magnificent, even if I spent half of it hiding behind a cushion. I know it’s a dog-eat-dog, orca-eatseal, eagle-eat-barnacle-goose world out there, but I find predation so horrible to watch. The orca picking off the seal pup, that was a horrible watch. You had to admire the orca. It’s so clever. It swims sideways as it nears its prey so the dorsal fin can’t be spotted. Good news for the whale, bad for the pup. Do you think there’s an over-emphasis on predation in Attenborough’s shows? Couldn’t we see more, I don’t know, animals burrowing and having babies and generally not being eaten? Still, there were amazing sights, including a dormouse that could stay stock-still for an hour to avoid being predated by a tawny owl. The mouse got away – hooray! – although I do sometimes wonder if, in turning everything into a life-or-death story, it depends whose story is being told. If this were the tawny owl’s, and there were chicks to feed, might we have wanted it to catch the mouse? I don’t really know the answer to that. I can only say: did you know that the damselfly retrieves its sperm from an opening near its head? And that a bumble bee vibrates its body to empty a flower of pollen… had you any idea? Not so keen on the eagle carrying off the barnacle goose, though. Could have done without that.