The conception of I Love My Country must have seemed like something of a eureka moment for those at Media City. Constantly under pressure to put licence payers’ money to better use, they had identified our lowest common denominator and set their tazers to ‘more fucking props’. On paper it was a sure-fire way to win the hearts of the nation; a celebration of Britishness subtly combined with a Club 18-30 holiday quiz – sans simulated sex positions and Jagerbomb forfeits.
The opening moments set the tone solidly enough, with an obnoxious guitar solo leading us to a live studio audience adorned in blue and red wigs, a set that looked like it had been dipped in Copydex and dragged through a London gift shop, and Jamelia, for some reason, fronting a house band programmed to play the best of British to a hundred strangers forced to dance and clap.
The ultimate effect was that of a Britain that can only be seen from the upper levels of an open-top tourist bus under the influence of some potent smelling salts. An experience akin to being trapped in Tommy Robinson’s subconscious, but with less hate and more Gaby Logan.
Garb aside, the basis of the show saw team captains Frank Skinner and Micky Flanagan – both of whom not so much ‘phoning it in’ as lazily texting it – pitted against each other to win a commemorative plate by playing a series of games so uninspired they would test the resolve of even the most hardcore lover of dedicatory china.
My expectations had reached a nadir when within five minutes Skinner had peppered guest Charlotte Salt with roughly sixteen highly original puns about her surname, and Flanagan had made not one, but two jokes about women cooking so poor even Emmeline Pankhurst would have turned a blind eye. No one had even asked a question yet and the audience were uproariously laughing at seemingly nothing. There’s setting the bar low, and then there’s just burying the bar and pretending you haven’t seen it when people ask.
The whole spectacle was something along the lines of The Sun’s recent This is Our Britain front page meets Jumanji. Which begs the question, how did a group of well educated, well-paid adult humans come to the conclusion this is what people want to see?
After more salt humour from Frank interspersed with shots of a delighted Jamelia, and a round involving a Yorkshire pudding and a map, we were treated to the show’s defining moment: a Beatles sing-along with the audience. Because what could be more British than forced false bonhomie? Everything was cranked up to eleven – a Butlin’s holiday beamed straight into your cerebral cortex. It can only be assumed the sing-along was in fact a cleverly disguised form of Pavlovian hypnotism designed to make the audience stay put. Stockholm syndrome will only get you so far and Logan must have known her charm was waning.
The fun didn’t end here, though. A further segment saw contestants made to guess the weight of a town mayor, like a pig at a carnival. And, in case the six musical interludes so far hadn’t sated our desire, there was a samba competition – the third most British of dances after awkwardly swaying from side to side with your hands in your pockets and drunkenly frotting someone in a nightclub. Neither of which are really executable on TV.
By the time Skinner and Flanagan had appeared wearing samba-style bras and headgear the sound of right-minded Brits everywhere filling out emigration forms was drowned out only by the cacophony of drums and the gentle sobbing of Winston Churchill’s ghost.
In a sense I Love My Country represents something of a resurrection. It’s a rebirth of the kind of Saturday night TV one assumes had died with bell-bottom trousers; a specific type of gentle-humoured, family-friendly programming probably responsible for our nation’s willingness to dedicate weekends to the much more stimulating practices of binge drinking and tactical vomiting.
There’s a moment leading up to the grand finale, which I can only assume involved an Elizabeth II lookalike performing a strip-tease medley, where all the contestants were sat in a circle playing pass the parcel. It wasn’t revealed what was in the gift-wrapped box, but I found myself taking silent pleasure in imagining it was the licence players’ money. As I was doing so, the package self-destructed in an explosion of confetti – A fitting metaphor, and as good a time as any to turn the TV off.