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Patrick Freyne: Who knew Eamonn Holmes' unknowable desires could be sated by craftwork?

Channel 4’s judges ‘eat, sleep and drink craft’, aka a coronavirus cure

If you'd told me that at the height of a pandemic there'd be a factory of people toiling to make gewgaws for the television presenter Eamonn Holmes, I would not have been surprised. If the end times didn't involve the briefly 5G-concerned Irishman in some way, I'd be shocked. Holmes was recently criticised for suggesting on television that 5G conspiracy theories were worth exploring; now he's making a guest appearance on the very enjoyable The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft (Sunday, Channel 4).

This features Keith Lemon, Holmes and handicrafts – that's three of the horsemen of this apocalypse. The fourth is the TV presenter Anna Richardson, here as a sidekick to Lemon – a sort of Lemon-aide, if you like.

The Fantastical Factory is modelled on that of the famed 20th-century industrialist Willy Wonka, a health-and-safety disaster without unions or child-labour laws. Each week Lemon puts his industrial resources to work on something commissioned by a different celebrity. Hence the presence of Holmes. (This was, just so you're clear, filmed before lockdown, when we could roam like freeborn men. So, this is no Holmes under the hammer; this is a mobile Holmes.)

I would go so far as saying I have seen the best minds of a generation destroyed by handicrafts and dough manipulation. Shouldn't they be off doing drugs or vandalism? It feels so unwholesome

It is, nonetheless, a perfectly apt type of programme for an era when we’re all stuck indoors, when crafting and baking are the vices du jour. My nephews and niece are off their heads on flour and glitter and raisins and colourdy paper. I would go so far as saying I have seen the best minds of a generation destroyed by handicrafts and dough manipulation. Shouldn’t they be off doing drugs or vandalism? (More on this later.) It feels so unwholesome.


Like The Great British Bake Off or The Great British Sewing Bee, two similarly enjoyable programmes, Lemon sets crafty tasks for skilled nice people. Though, unlike those shows, The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft doesn’t have “The Great British” in the title, possibly because, to avoid international law, Lemon’s factory is stateless and housed on an offshore oil rig. Although, post-Brexit, you might argue that the offshore oil rig is called “England”. Lemon’s judges, Harriet and Zak, we are told, “eat craft, they sleep craft, they drink craft”, which, as you know, some see as a cure for coronavirus.

The contestants include Jayne, who engages in faux taxidermy; Annie, who creates animals out of discarded rubbish; Ann, a tattooist with a love of the grotesque; and Samuel, who has a Wonka-style nickname, Samuel Spoon, because he likes to carve spoons. Rather touchingly, his love of woodcarving came as he worked his way out of depression and anxiety. Ann, meanwhile, cries when her work is first complimented, so accustomed is she to having it dismissed. All in all, it’s lovely to see a celebration of talented people making strange and beautiful things.

First, they must make puppets. Jayne makes a faux-taxidermy Wolpertinger, a mythical hare with horns and wings and a lemur tail, possibly the source of coronavirus. Samuel carves a phoenix with articulated sections. Annie makes a hippocampus like the ones Poseidon liked to ride, the mad bastard. And Ann creates a snake with the head of a woman.

They are all beautiful; Ann and Samuel’s offerings are particularly so. Poor Jayne’s Wolpertinger is ultimately considered unworthy and is fed gleefully into an ominous grinding “recycling” machine. Jayne is then ejected from the factory, Wonka style.

Eamonn Holmes heaves into view. He wishes to hone the home of Holmes. To do this he craves a decorative feature for his garden, and he believes that Lemon has the solution in his Fantastical Factory

Meanwhile, Keith Lemon is up in his office making a “potato troll”. “That’s a slightly racist way of describing Eamonn Holmes,” I say to myself. But it turns out he’s creating a literal potato troll from literal potatoes.

The real Eamonn Holmes heaves into view. He wishes to hone the home of Holmes. To do this he craves a decorative feature for his garden, and he believes that Lemon has the solution in his Fantastical Factory. We are led to believe that this is just how famous people get things done.

The remaining crafters attempt to fulfil Holmes’s unknowable desires like three siblings in a fairy story. Samuel creates a carved table with a motorised water feature at its centre. Ann makes an aquatically themed installation piece designed for illumination by the rising or falling sun. Annie produces a make-and-do model of the Northern Ireland coastline, including a golf course and a cardboard Giant’s Causeway – but, sadly, no burning 5G masts for Holmes to opine upon.

They are all wonderful things, but Holmes is most moved by Samuel’s carved table with its little boat that goes endlessly round in circles, possibly because it reminds him of being an ITV television presenter and possibly because he believes it to be a real boat that he can use to escape 5G radiation. In fairness, it’s beautiful, and if it gives Holmes joy then it’s probably temporarily protecting us from more of his off-the-cuff opinions.

Young people with their crafting and creativity, eh? In my day it was all pill-popping and illegal raves. You've not lived unless you've seen in the dawn to a skipping Johnny Moy CD while wearing a bucket hat and clutching a copy of Mr Nice. It was basically the Renaissance, the late 1990s. You just don't get it, with your craft projects and exquisitely crafted hazelnut buns.

Yes, I know you’re only 10 years old (this column began as a letter to my nephew), so to understand what I’m talking about watch White Lines (Netflix).

This is a Britsploitation thriller that follows a group of ravers to Ibiza before flashing forward 20 years, when they've turned into murder victims, burned-out drug dealers and Laurence Foxes. There are sexy Spaniards, eastern European hardmen, good acting from sad-eyed Daniel Mays, hammy acting from some others (see: Laurence Fox), drug deals going wrong, dogs accidentally doing drugs, fuddy-duddy judges who just don't get it, and speechifying youngsters who equate the right to dance to Venga Boys on the gak with universal suffrage.

I think it’s meant to be kind of funny, but I’m not sure the bits I find funny are the bits that are meant to be funny. Frankly, now that I think about it, it’s enough to get me crafting or baking. Yes, there’s only one white powder I want to see.