It was a case of the sweet and the sour in the third instalment of BBC2’s The Home That 2 Built: the ’80s. In this decade of “fast cash and even faster technology” Britons embraced the joy of home ownership and spending loadsamoney. The bad news was the excess of chintz, stippling, stencilling, rag rolling and “bossy women”, including the Iron Lady herself, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Last week’s instalment rather lost sight of how BBC2 programmes actually changed the way we lived. Fortunately, the 80s saw the banishment of the boring beardies with their toolbelts and the arrival of some genuinely charismatic experts on British TV.
For the ladies, there was everyone’s favourite Francophile, the flamboyant Keith Floyd, while from the East came glamorous and multi-talented Madhur Jaffrey trailing her exotic array of spices (helpfully available by mail order).
American Ken Hom extolled the virtues of “Chinese home cookery” – once he’d got over being camera-shy. These days Ken no longer has the shock of hair he sported in the 80s, but he did reveal that “one out of every six or seven households” has a Ken Hom wok. Yes, that is the sound of another celebrity chef laughing all the way to the bank . . .
Unfortunately, not everyone was “broadening their culinary horizons” in the 1980s. In 1987 cherubic presenter Eamonn Holmes turned up on an daytime advice show called Bazaar. Describing himself as “one of Thatcher’s bachelors” (not a term I was familiar with), the older and greyer Eamonn now cringes at the sight of his horrible patterned jumpers and slip-on shoes.
Eamonn’s attire wasn’t the only horror show on view here and neither were his cack-handed attempts at creating paint effects (all the rage in the 80s). No, this clueless young bachelor’s education included what narrator Mel Giedroyc accurately describes as “the worst Chinese takeaway of all time”.
Marmalade, tomato ketchup and vinegar were combined to make a sweet and sour sauce that looked more like a home-made emetic than something you’d pour over a Chinese. That’s not even the worst bit: the pallid white chicken breast that emerges from that state-of-the-art 80s microwave is, as Ken Hom points out, not something you’d feed to your dog.
But even Bazaar couldn’t compete with the truly bizarre notion of making comic songwriter Richard Stilgoe the presenter of Looking Good, Feeling Fit. A Dylan Thomas parody over an item on aerobics in Wales might have seemed like a good way to liven up this most boring of keep-fit activities. But who was in charge on the day when they asked Richard to present an item on sports bras, in which the model is none other than Twickenham Streaker Erica Roe?
I’m not saying that “jiggling” wasn’t a genuine problem for lady joggers both then and now. I suspect you’ll be giggling as explicit slo-mo footage of Erica’s bionic breasts (possibly a tribute to Jaime Sommers) is accompanied by Richard’s comic ditty: “We need a lift-up. We need separation. Please help us mound control.” You get the idea.
“What did the people on BBC2 think they were doing?” asks Gyles Brandreth in mock horror. It couldn’t happen now, of course, and neither could the sight of “dog training dominatrix” Barbara Woodhouse bringing recalcitrant pooches to heel.
She may have been a TV phenomenon and even more formidable than Margaret Thatcher, but I couldn’t work out what Barbara Woodhouse was doing here among this distinguished assortment of chefs, gardeners, DIY experts and mammary watchers.
More articulate and more posh than Mrs T or Mrs Woodhouse was BBC2’s Food and Drink presenter Jilly Goolden. In an era when Australia was developing some “revolutionary” methods for churning out decent plonk, Jilly (“a girl with a very fertile imagination”) and co-presenter Oz Clarke competed to find the most outlandish descriptions of wines.
I’m not sure I’d drink a wine that smells like “furniture polish and saddle soap”, but it might be just the thing to banish the taste of that sweet and sour chicken.
(The Home that 2 Built is on Friday at 7pm on BBC2.)