Is it me or is Jamie Oliver starting to look like a scone? He’s a bit, you know, doughy and his eyes have gone all curranty. Gone are the days when he could whizz down his bannister looking as if he’d just stepped out of a Supergrass video. Jamie’s grown up. And as he faces middle age, he’s swapped filo for philanthropy. He’s done the unemployed, chickens, school dinners and now he’s set to revolutionise schools.
While I really admire his chutzpah, where the hell’s it going to stop? Are we going to be subject to more messianic doccos where we see Jamie tackling Cancer? The Ozone? Will he solve the problems of the Middle East with a batch of hearty puddings? Jamie, love, GIVE IT A REST.
It’s as though Thatcher and Blair have coupled to spawn an ideological love-child. A totem of self-help, enterprise and that most awful of CV-bollocks-phrases ‘a can-do attitude’ Jamie is Anneka Rice for the Facebook Generation. I can honestly imagine Tony Blair ringing him up to get tips on everything from handling a meteorite shower to how to set up a wireless router. Part of me wonders if Jamie’s PR people have had strategy meetings to position him as ‘the new Diana.’ Like Elvis, Jesus and Saddam, Jamie is known by his Christian name. And if ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ is to be believed, Jamie’s educational fantasies could CHANGE THE WORLD. (Rumours that the working title for this programme was ‘Jamie’s Nocturnal Emissions In A School’ are entirely unfounded).
“I left school with nothing,” says millionaire Jamie Oliver, MBE. “I was lucky. I found cookery.” Thank God he didn’t find geometry, eh? There’d have been programmes about Jamie saving the planet through the power of trigonometry. Things, people, could’ve been a lot, lot worse.
“Can these brilliant minds unlock the lost generation?” asks Jamie plaintively. It’s unclear if he’s talking about the kids or the celebrity teachers here. “It’s the great and the good versus the bored and the badly behaved,” says Jamie over a shot of David Cameron’s concerned moomin face. “If we can engage the kids, that’s all that matters,” he says. That, and his production company getting a second series, presumably.
We know the premise of these kinds of programmes. Person Frightened of Change comes face to face with their Ideological Nemesis only to discover that they learn something, and lo and behold they...change! And - who’da thunk it! - the Nemesis person learns something too! Everyone’s a winner! In this programme, ‘experts’ take on the role of teachers in a bid to inspire and transform young, doomed lives.
Alistair Campbell gets the kids to argue about something they’re passionate about and before we know it two girls are having a proper fight. There’s pushing and shouting and nose-to-nose stuff and everything
We open with Jamie having a “baptism of fire” as he gets the kids to talk about what’s wrong with them. He calls them ‘guys’ and ‘brother’ which frankly makes me want to hurl my very ring. And suddenly Alistair Campbell hoves into view like The Ghost of Booms Past. “He’s known as a bit of a bruiser,” warns Jamie.
“Those kids,” murmurs Alistair Campbell. “Those kids. Are. Political.”
“Really?” says Jamie Oliver MBE sounding surprised.
“Yeah,” breathes Campbell. He says it in such a way that I wondered if he was tumescing.
We’re then treated to a scene where horn-rimmed history gnome David Starkey is hauled over the coals by Jamie and his head-master side-kick for calling a kid ‘fat.’ Apropos of nothing, Starkey launches into a self-justifying speech about how he has to wear special shoes because he was born badly disabled with club feet. When he’s finished, Jamie sums up Starkey’s first, disastrous lesson. “Well, that went off on a bad foot,” he says. Jamie! What are you THINKING? Don’t mention the foot or he might chuck you in the bloody Tower!
Now it’s Jazzy B OBE’s turn to teach music. “He’s trying a tough but fair teaching style,” says Jamie as though this concept is an educational first. Jazzy B gets the kids to push their hands in the air and sing a scale. It’s GROUND-BREAKING.
Simon Callow CBE is posh, tetchy and pompously demands that the kids treat him with the same reverence he gets from audiences at the RSC. Simon, mate, it just ain’t gonna happen. When it becomes clear that the kids aren’t arsed about Shakespeare, Simon gets cross and bellows at the kids to SHUT UP. “Do you know what this is like for me?” he whines in a boomy way. He’s completely, poshly, sonorously out of his depth. But he’s not giving up. The poor sod takes the kids to the theatre and then shouts at them some more, this time while he’s on a stage.
There’s real conflict too. Alistair Campbell gets the kids to argue about something they’re passionate about and before we know it two girls are having a proper fight. There’s pushing and shouting and nose-to-nose stuff and everything. It’s a bit scary. They’re hauled into the head teacher’s office (don’t worry, this guy’s a professional but oh wouldn’t it have been great if the head had been Jeremy Clarkson?) This part of the programme illustrates the volatility of the kids and how dangerous they really are. David Starkey calls them “feral.” I for one hope that Jamie’s production company offered all the staff of Dream School a tetanus injection before filming began, just to be on the safe side.
One of the kids, Carl, has ADD and had a patchy education after serial suspensions and exclusions. When he’s talking to the ‘teachers’ you get the feeling he’s on the brink of tears. He’s a boy who’s wrestling to contain his flames. When he shows Rankin his art homework, it’s a genuinely moving moment. This vulnerable boy, desperate for approval is delighted that someone’s taking an interest in him. And Carl’s pleased too.
Jamie’s Dream School is the celebing up of faux education to prove to us what a visionary Jamie truly is. It’s patronising, idealistic, superficial and at the end of the programme I wasn’t sure what it wanted to achieve. A David Starkey in every school in the UK? Perhaps. But one thing’s for sure: the kids who were taking part were getting something out of it. They were getting attention. And even if it’s only from Jamie’s production company’s latest commission and only for the briefest of moments, that’s gotta be better than nothing.
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