We’re now on day three of the Chelsea Flower Show, and this year the BBC have taken their coverage to the max. As well as the quotidian hourly slot with Monty Don, Joe Swift and newcomer Sophie Raworth, in the week preceding the show we were also treated to the daily Countdown to Chelsea.
What is it that makes the public so interested in gardening that we are willing to watch so much of it? Gardening is, for the most part, about scrabbling around in the mud and digging up weeds. But that’s the point. If this were a country where the majority of people earned their keep by growing plants – ie arable farming – it’s unlikely that watching other people do the same would make for enjoyable viewing. I mean, when you’ve finished a hard day’s work, the last thing you want to do is re-live that day on TV.
The same applies to so much of our prime-time viewing. The whole concept of The Great British Bake-Off, for example, revolves around the fact that baking is now an entertaining pastime, rather than something we do daily in order to feed our families. Kirstie Allsopp’s many craft and restoration programmes work along the same lines, as does The Great British Sewing Bee. Skills that were once universal have become minority entertainment activities, or things that only your grandmother knows how to do.
Before anyone accuses me of abandoning the female cause, it’s certainly not just activities traditionally seen as ‘female’ that are now being classed as entertainment. Bear Grylls’ most recent television venture, The Island, has a similar premise – dumping a group of men on a desert in a bid to find out whether they have ‘lost the ability to be practical – even when their lives depend on it’. In this country, that might well be seen as entertainment. But in other parts of the world, having to boil water before you drink it is a necessity, not something you watch others doing for fun. There are hundreds of these kinds of programmes – almost anything featuring Ray Mears (or Bear Grylls), for example, as well as the classic ‘watching paint dry’ programmes like Changing Rooms and Ground Force.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. I might not know how to crochet a pair of mittens, but I do know how to upload a YouTube video, and edit a podcast. I would probably prefer to know how to crochet, but the skills I have are the ones that are more likely to be helpful in life. At the same time, however, it’s interesting how what we watch on the telly is affected by the prosperity of the nation. I bet The Island isn’t half as popular in the Amazon as it is in Acton.