TV COLUMN: The Town That Took On The Taxman, James May’s Cars of the People, The Great Sport Relief Bake Off, Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

Until last year, apart from a few holiday cottage burnings in the 1970s, the last reasonably successful Welsh insurrection was way back at the start of the fifteenth century when Owain Glyndŵr had a pop at Henry IV and fell foul of his military genius son, the future Henry V.

Last year, however, the little Breconshire town of Crickhowell decided to rise up against the UK’s corporate tax laws. Presented by Heydon Prowse, The Town That Took On The Taxman (BBC4) pitched the local business underdogs against might of the tax establishment.

It is a quintessentially British tale, the little man against the monolith. But in a week when the government presented its tax agreement with Google, this revealing examination showed just how complex – and unfair – the UK’s corporate tax arrangements are.

The group of Crickhowell’s small business owners were an excellent foil for the various experts, asking the questions to which we’d all like to know the answers.

It’s a story that is going to run with growing momentum in 2016 and this charming documentary, whilst it may not change the world on its own, has at least put an irritating stone in the shoe of those making decisions. Glyndŵr would approve.

James May, the acceptable face of the Top Gear legacy, returned this week with the second series of James May’s Cars Of The People (BBC2).

This social history told through cars is May at his best. He is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and has a genuine passion for his subject. Add in a great script and top quality production and it’s a recipe for the sort of programme the BBC do best.

May’s opening premise that “To win at cars, first you must lose at war” was examined through comparisons with the post-war evolution, or demise, of the car industries is the UK, America, Japan and Germany.

The poor old British car industry. A failure of design, production and industrial relations, going out with a limp array of joke cars, culminating in the ludicrous Austin Allegro.

May cringed. You just got the feeling he would be happier back our engineering heyday, rubbing shoulders with Brunel, Stevenson and Telford, in a time when Britain built things that worked.

The inevitable charity celebrity spin-off of any successful reality show came around again this week with The Great Sport Relief Bake Off (BBC1).

The summer Bake Off team reappeared with an assorted collection of celebs, which in fairness are actually fairly well known – unlike the current Celebrity Big Bother, which has irony running through every bit of it, inasmuch as the house is filled with nobodies being watched by no one.

Surprise of the opening show was Samantha Cameron, who clearly wears the charm and charisma trousers in the Downing Street household. Mrs No.10 can also bake too and walked off with the Star Baker prize.

Mary Berry has been allowed out without her Bake Off carers in Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking (BBC2). The programme could pass for a 1970’s re-run, with Mary’s kitsch array of ‘dinner party’ dishes appearing dated before they hit the table.

Does anyone under the age of 70 call having friends for supper a ‘dinner party’ anymore? I tried to spy around Mary’s kitchen. Somewhere, I just know there’s a Mateus Rosé wine bottle with a candle in it. “Times have certainly changed” says Mary, with all the awareness of someone who’s been living in aspic for the last 40 years.