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Jamie’s Dream School (C4); Rich, Famous And In The Slums (BBC1)

Gerry Corner watches two celebrity master-classes in profile-building

Published on March 7th 2011.


Jamie’s Dream School (C4); Rich, Famous And In The Slums (BBC1)

THE do-gooders were out in force this week. First up, Jamie Oliver, who incurred the nation's wrath when he buggered about with school dinners. Keep your nutrients mate, our kids don't like 'em.

'You're so fat, you
can barely move,'
Starkey told one
student, hoping to
win over the others
with his incisive wit

Now it's not just the bit in the middle of the school day that Jamie's meddling with; it's the whole caboodle. Jamie's Dream School (C4) would be most teachers' worst nightmare: a school for scoundrels, misfits, the kind of kids who make you think “I know they need encouragement, so why my urge to belt them round the ear?”

The hope is that Oliver's Army – celebrities turned schoolteachers, all masters in their own field (Alastair Campbell, Dr Robert Winston, and Cherie Booth among them) - will succeed in engaging 20 teenagers where conventional education has failed.

Simon Callow – “probably one of the world's best actors”, according to chef Jamie – was appointed English teacher in the Dream School, and went down well with the kids - despite the clipped vowels and aristocratic bearing.

“That man's proper posh inne?” observed Angelique. “But, 'e's not stuck up or nothin' – 'e can't 'elp the way 'e talks.”

Callow spent lesson number one introducing Shakespeare whose works can be a test for the most concentrated minds, never mind kids who cannot go more than seven seconds without texting a mate to let them know how bored they are.

Nevertheless, he seemed to have made an instant connection with Angelique, she of the proper posh name. “Oh my God!” she shrieked, “I only live about an hour away from Stratford!”

“No?,” said Callow, sounding genuinely impressed, but then he is probably one of the world's best actors.

Then it transpired Angelique had put two and two together and made seven, which is why she's there, I suppose.

She meant the other Stratford, east London. “The wild one, pow! pow!” she explained, fashioning a gun from her fingers.

Understandable, really. After all Callow did mention some bad guy from Stratford. Actually, he said “Bard” but she probably thought it was him just being posh again.

David Starkey, historian, TV presenter and all round brainbox, believes in “good old-fashioned teaching”.

He began a history lesson with a few brutal facts regarding his pupils' own past. “You are all here because you failed. Okay?” he pointed out, throwing a bit of a damp tea towel over Jamie's impassioned motivational speech.

He had been hoping to impress them with a hoard of 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon jewellery worth millions but, let's face it, whatever its historical and financial value, a lump of old metal is still a lump of old metal.

As control slipped away from him, Starkey tried a strategy from his history text books: divide and rule. “You're so fat, you can barely move,” he told one student, hoping to win over the others with his incisive wit.

It didn't work first time so he tried again, proving that intelligence does not preclude you from being a bully. “The poor lad has got a problem,” he opined, “(but) with Jamie's food there will be plenty of dieting opportunities.”

As the entire room jeered Starkey, it looked like the students weren't the only ones with a lot to learn. At least Starkey agreed to have a go, assuming his participation isn't entirely about the fee, and his profile.

SAMANTHA Womack is an actress whose profile needs work since the cot-death storyline in EastEnders, which caused her to be abused in the street.

I tried to tell myself her involvement in the Comic Relief-inspired Famous, Rich and in the Slums (BBC1) was not about acquiring positive PR, but I was only half listening.

Womack, along with ex-newsreader Angela Rippon, comedian Lenny Henry and DJ Reggie Yates, were “living it for real” in Kibera, Kenya, one of the most impoverished places on Earth: put up in cockroach-ridden shacks, forced to seek work to feed themselves, sharing a pit-latrine toilet with 1,000 people, and nowhere to buy a decent latte.

Rippon didn't mind getting her hands dirty. She and her temporary Kenyan friend, Julia, were employed by a man who paid them just under £1.50 between them, then sat around examining his mobile phone while they spent five hours scrubbing his clothes clean, causing Angela's soft western hands to shed blood.

Next day, Rippon's injuries meant no washing duties, so Julia suggested she could make some money hawking her body around the local bar instead. “I was a journalist with the BBC for 30 years, haven't I prostituted myself enough already?” protested Angela (not really).

After the bleeding hands came the bleeding hearts with the now cliched pictures of celebrity tears – the money shot. As they are moved, we are moved to put our hands in our pockets.

When Rippon went to say goodbye, Julia clung on. “When will you come back?” Rippon looked her in the eye: “I won't be back.”

As Julia wept, you wondered if it was only the men in the local bar who had exploited her.

Watching the first of this two-parter, preceding Red Nose Day, you got the uncomfortable feeling that the producers were desperate for something sexier than the usual format.

Celebrities encounter desperately sick and impoverished people? Bor-ing. Wait a minute, we can't make the inhabitants' lives any more miserable, but we can make the celebs suffer!

The result is a programme title that is crassly insulting to people who may be forced to live alongside open sewers but approach life with good humour, generosity and a head-to-toe wash every morning.

Meanwhile, the tone feels like a hardcore version of I'm A Celebrity... “They've all made it to the end of the first stage, and while it's harder than they thought – they don't know what's coming up next!” we are told. Probably Ant and Dec to announce who the viewers had voted to complete the next task – cleaning the toilet.

For all the cynicism there were affecting moments. A man who cannot even afford to feed his family every day, gave Lenny Henry a job and a portion of his profits selling samosas, then insisted he share their meagre evening meal.

Lenny wondered how a man who had so little could smile so much. It couldn't be Lenny's jokes.

“I have to smile,” he said, indicating his children, “so they can be hopeful.”

*Watch Jamie’s Dream School here.

*Watch Rich, Famous and in the Slums here

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