Television: From panache to ganache, with not a soggy bottom in sight

‘Cutting Edge’ was on to a winner with its fabulous fashionistas – as is TV3 with ‘The Great Irish Bake Off’

Dressed to impress: fabulous fashionistas Jean, Gillian and Bridget

Dressed to impress: fabulous fashionistas Jean, Gillian and Bridget


The six women, average age 80, who featured in Sue Bourne’s uplifting and inspiring Cutting Edge documentary Fabulous Fashionistas (Channel 4, Tuesday) were demonstrably fabulous but not particularly interested in fashion. Style, though, that’s different, and this eye-catchingly stylish half dozen were never going to give in to a pair of elasticated slacks, a nice cardy and a sensible anorak. Each was determined to look fantastic on her terms, and none could care less what anyone thought of her: “keep moving” and “stay interested in life” were their mantras.

It was an attitude best expressed by Bridget, a colourfully clad campaigning and cycling 75-year-old, with her Dr Martens bought in a charity shop for £4 – “It’s not about money, it’s about individual style.”

And there was Jean, who was bereft when her husband died after 56 years together. Her son suggested she get a job in a charity shop. Instead, at 70, she got a job at Gap; a year later she moved to the trendy boutique where she has been for the past six years. She jogs three times a week – the knee replacement helps. “It’s a different life,” she said.

There was also 87-year-old Gillian, who begins her day with 40 minutes of stretches before heading to work as a director in the West End, where she puts dancers a third of her age through their paces. “It’s dangerous to retire,” she said, although she has probably left it too late to bother.

Britain’s oldest model, 85-year-old Daphne, began her career at 70, when she was signed by a London agency and swiftly began doing fashion shoots around the world. There were so many life lessons stitched into each of the women’s stories.

Bourne concluded that when you’ve lived over eight decades you’ve seen so much and experienced so many things that nothing is going to faze you.

In TV-documentary terms, especially on Channel 4, a film about refusing to give in to ageing usually means an orgy of plastic surgery or a deluded woman being injected with pig placenta. And that’s what made this, as well as Bourne’s obvious admiration for her wonderful subjects, so refreshing.

Although the fabulous fashionistas have left the 1970s far behind, Father Figure (RTÉ Two, Monday; BBC One, Wednesday), a six-part sitcom written by and starring the Irish comedian Jason Byrne, is a throwback: it has a suburban setting, with a nosy neighbour on one side and a mild-mannered put-upon couple on the other, laughter from the studio audience and a story revolving around the harmless shenanigans of a chaotic happy family.

With neither crude language nor cross-dressing, it’s the cleaner, more innocent cousin of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Byrne plays Tom Whyte, the accident-prone father, with Pauline McLynn as his interfering mother and Dermot Crowley as his slightly dotty father. Father Figure relies for laughs mostly on old-school slapstick: at one point McLynn wears a roast chicken as a boxing glove. It’s harmless, old-fashioned humour, and it works.

Two dramas wrapped up this week. What Remains (BBC One, Sunday) spiralled wildly from standard police procedural in the first episode to full-on slasher movie in the fourth.

By then none of the characters behaved in any way normally, such as the woman with the baby being chased by the murderous lesbian. (In one of the final twists, the latter murdered her lover and kept her in the bath.)

Did the mammy lock her door and phone the police? Of course not. She hid in the communal attic where the original murder took place. It’s not often the killer in a drama set in London is felled by an arrow. And I still enjoyed it all.

The Guilty (UTV, Thursday) featured Tamsin Greig – the reason to watch it in the first place – as DCI Maggie Brand. The story of the investigation into the death of a young boy – yes, another one, although this was no Broadchurch – was never quite a nail-biter. But, in DCI Brand, Greig created a convincing female TV cop – it’s a crowded field – so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her return in the role, although the plot would need fewer loose ends, tension-dimming flashbacks and handy coincidences.

If The Great Irish Bake Off (TV3, Thursday) proves as popular as its British originator, TV3 will be on to a winner. I think it is. It’s not a straight copy of the formula: the BBC version has three challenges each week; this has two, which stretches things out a bit, as there are only so many shots of people peering into ovens you can take.

And TV3 has wisely ditched the Beeb’s boring section on the history of some British bun or other. That might be for budgetary reasons or because after it had done gur cake and soda bread, what other Irish recipes could it have featured?

Also, TV3 has given its judges, Biddy White Lennon and Paul Kelly, just one sidekick, Anna Nolan, and she’s terrific: funny and relaxed. “We’re here to judge,” she said, “in a loving way.”

The first “signature challenge” for the 12 amateur bakers was to make cupcakes – or fairy cakes, as we called them in simpler times – and then a fancy sponge.

So much is the same, though: the kitchen in the tent, the random shots of nature from the grounds. The contestants are a good mix, with nobody even slightly odd (which is a little disappointing). The judges are kind, knowledgeable and less intimidating than their BBC counterparts, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

White Lennon, an actor turned cookery expert, is well known; not so Kelly, who’s a hotel pastry chef. We were less than five minutes in before he said “ganache”. Fans of the Great British Bake Off, never a week of which goes by without someone using the word, were immediately reassured.

White Lennon’s baking watchword is “moist”, five letters guaranteed to make you feel queasy in a way that Berry’s signature “soggy bottom” never does. Last year the New Yorker magazine asked readers to nominate words they’d like to see deleted from the dictionary. “Moist” came tops, but the editors ruled to keep it, on the grounds of its usefulness for describing things such as cupcakes, so I grudgingly have to concede that White Lennon has a point.

Incidentally, they ditched “slacks” instead. The fabulous fashionistas would have approved.

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