It takes a moment to realise what marks out The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC One) from other shows of its ilk. It’s obviously not the format, which is essentially The Great British Bake Off without the cake. And it’s not the belief that viewers are crying out for a celebrity special, because here was an episode featuring Birds of a Feather star and panto queen Lesley Joseph trying to fashion an Ugly Sister costume out of some Christmas tree offcuts.
No, it’s the judges. Patrick Grant and Esme Young don’t mug for the cameras like the judges on MasterChef, or exude the if-they-were-chocolate-they’d-eat-themselves air of Simon Cowell or Paul Hollywood. They are likeable, knowledgeable, encouraging to every contestant and yet to be carried away by their own importance. In short, they’re perfect TV judges. We must preserve them at all costs.
Joseph was one of four celebrity contestants, the others being actress Sally Phillips, TV presenter Sabrina Grant and drag queen The Vivienne. I’d heard of 50 per cent of them, which is par for the course with celebrity versions of anything these days.
The Vivienne admitted to being a dab hand with the sewing machine. Sabrina was a former fashion stylist, so surely had some rudimentary knowledge. Joseph said she was a good knitter but had never sewn a garment, though she knows how to pad an Ugly Sister’s bosom. And Phillips said she didn’t really know how to sew, but what she lacked in technical skill she made up in creative flair. Her pantomime horse costume, using an ironing board in place of a mannequin, was a hit. And where the others offered pretty straightforward takes on a party dress “inspired by your most memorable New Year’s Eve”, Phillips made hers from material printed with the image of a lurcher with whom she had once spent a miserable NYE on a friend’s sofa-bed. She was the worthy winner.
Joe Lycett hosted proceedings in his jolly fashion. It’s usually the case that celebrity editions are pale imitations of the real thing (Celebrity MasterChef, I’m talking to you) but here it was rather lovely to see how thrilled the contestants were with their achievements. The judges, of course, had positive things to say about every one of them.