Nice people make great television

Alison Graham on why we need feel-good shows like The Great British Bake Off and Antiques Roadshow


You are heading home and you board a stuffy commuter train with shopping bags that feel they are weighted down with iron ore and lined with uranium.


Of course, there are no seats and you have to stand as young, seated men pretend to be asleep so they don’t see you, as if this were possible while their shrieking MP3 players leak brittle rap noise into the carriage like a dog with diarrhoea.

That any one of them would even think of giving up their place to a woman of a certain age is as unlikely as Wayne Rooney starring as Edward Ferrers in Sense and Sensibility.

This is just one of a steady daily accretion of bad manners and rudeness that eventually builds up into a massive, burning ball of sparking anger that gives off so much heat it threatens to cauterise all of your internal organs before smashing its way through the top of your head as you scream, “Why is everyone such an unpleasant, loutish, pin-brained, hollow-headed git?”

So you get home and you switch on your telly, and after Robert Peston tells you that your bank balance is blancmange and the world stock markets have turned into toffee, you need something nice. You deserve it. Because we are all sick of real-life bleakness and manufactured exploitative unpleasantness, aren’t we?

On television, where rudeness is currency and everyone is overspent, surely we’ve all had enough of humiliated reality TV hopefuls and bickering Big Brother contestants shouting into the eternal void as their empty souls echo only to the sound of their own dead words?

I’m not suggesting that we all want to walk around in wimples, singing Climb Ev’ry Mountain, but the remorseless negatives of “reality” shows and talent competitions eventually start to chip little bits away from our souls.

That’s why The Great British Bake Off was such a floury, stratospheric hit (see The Great British Bake Off Revisited on BBC2 tonight, which looks back at the 2010 series). It had grace and gentility. People smiled in GBBO and they were good sports in a nice, yes, British way.

That’s why Antiques Roadshow remains a ratings busting beacon of civilisation even after 30-odd years. The Roadshow world is an enduring place of pleasantness, where the experts would never brush off a hopeful with “Your cadenza is crappy and, by the way, I don’t like your hair.”

It’s the same need for reassurance and the same seeking out of goodness that win huge TV audiences for the Pride of Britain Awards (ITV1 last week). I don’t mind admitting that its stories of selflessness and bravery pierce my flinty heart every single time.


Bizarrely, even Transplant earlier this month on BBC1 was optimistic and restorative, though at its core was the tragedy of a life lost too soon, the death of 65-year-old Penny, whose organs were donated to save the lives of sick strangers. It was all about hope and goodness and made just about everything else on telly seem petty and mean.