Thursday, 8 January 2009

A triumph of beer over experience

Oz And James Drink To Britain

James May stands on the white cliffs of Dover to introduce the third series of what has become an annual booze-up starring himself and self confessed 'wine ponce' Oz Clarke. The past two series have been all about the wine. First they went to France, then to America. For this series however, the pair keep the home fires burning with a tour of Blighty and this time... its all about beer.

Television loves good partnerships and Clarke and May make a fine pair. They both have affable on screen personalities but their individual characteristics creates enough tension to provide just a frisson of tension without making the viewer think that they would rather be doing something else. Clarke's unbound puppy dog enthusiasm for the grape and the hop is complimented beautifully by May's delicious languidity.

Having made their introductions the pair set off in a green Rolls Royce Corniche convertible with a cheap caravan hooked on the back. They head for Yorkshire and there they discover the genesis of beer making while consuming volumous quantities of the local brew. Happily, the narrative does more than enough to stop the whole shebang from becoming a televised piss-up This is thanks to Clarke's instance on exploring the roots of the subject matter while celebrating each pint as though it were a rare vintage against May's insistence that its just beer. If you've watched previous series you'll get the idea of the philosophical divide twixt the two.

Clarke takes May to a barley field in Yorkshire to explain the basis of how the hardiness and versatility of that grain allowed us to make beer. He stands there grasping a single husk and posited the theory that people gathered, settled and built entire societies around barley fields for the single purpose of making and consuming beer. It is beer, he declared, that gave birth to civilisation. May stares at him with understated admiration and says "The was genuinely interesting... fancy a pint?"

Other excursions include a couple of trips to some Yorkshire breweries, one of which is run by an Italian and a Kiwi. There is also an unexpected trip to a vineyard by way as a revista to series past. I wasn't aware that they produced wine in Yorkshire but according to the governor of this vineyard, some variety of grape based falling down water has been in the county for thousands of years. Once it was decided that the plonk would go down well with a curry, they dropped off the Rolls and headed for Dewsbury Railway Station. In West Riding there's a train line with a pub at every station selling a wide variety of local ales. A train related pub crawl ensued which started as an attempt to discern the distinctive qualities of each particular ale and finished as a couple of bumbling middle aged men who had lost their tickets.

The first episode suffered with an introduction to the programme which was too lengthy. Naturally, there has to be a degree of contextualising before getting down to business. However, for a 30 minute programme, surly a simple "Hello its us again, we're off to explore beer in a big Rolls Royce" would have sufficed. It certainly worked for Paul Merton In India. However, such trifling matters aside it was a good watch.

Clarke's pursuit of knowledge made you feel as though you'd watched something improving. While May's unending thirst for unlikely similes and juvenile teasing of Clarke's extravagant bookishness gave the programme a lightness of touch. At no time did I feel as though I was learning anything. even if part of me suspected I was. They even managed to chuck in some sheep in a pub. Anyone fancy a pint?

Oz And James Drink To Britain is on BBC2 every Tuesday at 8pm. Episode 1 is still on the iPlayer.


Chris O 8 January 2009 at 09:22  

Excellent post, mate. I inexcusably missed this the other night but just caught the last 10 minutes or so.

Absolutely loved their last two series and intend to enjoy this one every bit as much as the alcohol they've consumed so far!

Duffman 8 January 2009 at 16:15  

Cheers Chris. It certainly does give you a thirst for real ale. It was all I could do to stop myself from reaching for the jesus creepers and applying for Camra membership.

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