What we're watching on TV

The Simple Life, s1 ep4. Kevin Gambles and Jacob Lloyd / In the field with shire Horses / The Farm

The Simple Life. Kevin Gambles and Jacob Lloyd - Credit: Mike Hogan

The Simpler Life, Tuesdays and Wednesdays on Channel 4 and catch-up on All4 

Take 24 people, add a picturesque setting, a dash of deprivation and season liberally with psychology. 

The standard recipe for reality television has been followed faithfully by The Simpler Life which takes its 24 (initially; spoiler alert, not everyone can hack a simpler life) characters in search of something more than takeaways and social media, and deposits them on Devon farm to follow an Amish way of life. 

I’m assuming the real Amish are not subjected to captions rating each person in fields (and for a moment we are not talking fields of hay or sheep) including agreeableness, conscientiousness, need to achieve, anxiety and outgoingness. 

Actually, it would be excellent if people (except me; I don’t want everyone alerted to my character defects via snippy graphics) were required to carry a screen displaying their ratings and alerting people to their distinct lack of agreeableness, conscientiousness etc. Or is that what Facebook and Instagram are for?  

While everyone else is sowing seeds Penny (mother-of-two, self-awareness of zero) is sowing dissent. They produce a glut of courgettes and kale, she produces lines like: “It’s not about me not being able to fall in with the community. The community won't fit in with me.” 

I assume the community aspect was why the producers chose an Amish culture, rather than, say Devon pre-internal combustion engine. Perhaps they originally planned to play out the experiment in Pennsylvania and then the pandemic forced them to stay in Britain. It meant they could add a bit of tech tension. A contraband radio was borrowed so that the participants could listen to England in the Euros semi-finals. Before that they’d been waiting to get the scores by post.   

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I began watching The Simpler Life because I love a living history social experiment. I’m old enough to have seen the Iron Age camp back in 1978 and really wanted to move to Taransay in 2000, mainly so that I could watch Ben Fogle do all the work while I admired the view. There are some lovely characters on The Simpler Life too and I am delighted that they are prepared to show me the benefits of nature, healthy outside exercise and an abundance of fresh vegetables while I lounge on my sofa in front of a screen.  

Rowan Mantell

The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer, Channel 4, Tuesdays, 8pm and streaming on All4 

I watch the Great British Bake Off filled with awe at the way the contestants always rise to the occasion, no matter what obscure European cake Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood ask them to whip up in the technical challenge. 

Despite its showbizzy twist, I see The Great Celebrity Bake Off, which has returned for a new series, as being much more on my level.     

The annual event for Stand Up to Cancer (and the real-life stories are a sobering reminder of why it is so necessary) sees A-listers enter the now-iconic tent, aided and abetted by hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas, in a bid to be crowned star baker and raise lots of money for charity. 

And it’s so reassuring to see that while they might have the fame, they’re just as inept in the kitchen as I am.    

The first batch of bakers – in the loosest sense of the word – were DJ Clara Amfo, TV presenter Emma Willis, Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison and Taskmaster’s Little Alex Horne – someone who is more used to dishing out the challenges. 

It didn’t take long for the innuendos to start flowing. For their signature challenge, the four famous faces had to create highly decorated biscuits.  

Blake (“The worst thing that I can do today: everyone dies of severe food poisoning because of what I’ve baked”) chose sloths, while Clara went for full on leopard print.  

Alex decided to make fig roll snails – whether it actually counts as a biscuit will be debated for all time.  

But it was Emma’s elephant Viennese fingers which sounded the first innuendo klaxon, with co-host Matt Lucas making the point that they also resembled something slightly more, erm, anatomical.  

For their technical challenge, the celebrities were set the task of making maple and pecan madeleines. 

And the French theme continued for their showstopper – or should that be choux-stopper? - challenge where they were given the task of revealing their hidden talent through the medium of patisserie.  

Clara decided to pay tribute to her love of track and field and Emma revealed that while many of us took up baking sourdough and Yoga With Adriene during the lockdowns, she discovered a love of bricklaying. 

The innuendo klaxon sounded again when Blake decided to create fondant figurines of Prue and Paul wrestling in the middle of what ended up looking like Stonehenge for his mixed martial arts themed bake. There are some things that cannot be unseen. 

And Alex really went freestyle and pushed the boundaries of taste when he decided to decorate his skate park with bangers and mash. 

With other famous names including Sir Mo Farah, Ellie Goulding, Gareth Malone, Laura Whitmore, Motsi Mabuse, Sophie Morgan and Ruby Wax appearing throughout the series, the Great Celebrity Bake Off is showing no signs of going stale. 

Emma Lee 

Mary whitehouse

Whitehouse, general secretary of National Viewers and Listeners Association arriving with Polly Bennett and Nancy Crooke to deliver to Buckingham Palace letters signed by 20,000 people regretting the Queen's decision not to broadcast a Christmas Day message. 1969 - Credit: BBC/PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Banned! The Mary Whitehouse Story, watch part one now on iPlayer

In 1963, armed with just a typewriter and frothing fury, Midlands campaigner Mary Whitehouse began a three-decade battle against the permissive society she despised.

Spoiler: she lost.

Whitehouse was the original cancel culture warrior (according to the BBC, I think that might be a little disingenuous) who cast herself as “the avenging angel of Middle England” but who basically didn’t like seeing people in the nip or swearing on the telly.

As head of The National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, she endlessly carped on about the horror of sex before marriage, abortion, homosexuality and so forth in a way that was, frankly, somewhat creepy.

But just as I’d settled back into the sofa to spend an hour heartily and comfortably disagreeing with her every word, there were a few uncomfortable truths.

In retrospect, Whitehouse’s objection to Bernardo Bertolucci’s misogynistic Last Tango in Paris, which includes a brutal rape scene that the actress involved in hadn’t been informed about before filming, was bang on the money.

And while it’s impossible to view the ‘Clean up TV’ campaigner as a feminist, it’s equally difficult to argue that she was always wrong when you see footage of one of her speeches: “Porn is a male commodity, made by men, for men. We must consider the effects of porn on women and children.”

But then you discover she didn’t even watch most of what she campaigned about and remember how she hated gay people and women’s rights and the balance tips back to ‘God, she was awful’.

In short, this was a balanced documentary from the very corporation that Whitehouse hated above any other. Well played, BBC.

* Part two of Banned! The Mary Whitehouse Story is on BBC2 on April 5 at 9pm.

Stacia Briggs