‘Is pottery better than sex?’ asks high-profile master potter Keith Brymer Jones, one of the judges of BBC2’s latest Great (British) Something. ‘Er, no,’ he then adds, anticlimactically.
The Great Pottery Throw Down pits the country’s finest amateur potting talent against each other, but mainly in a contest to sex-up the craft with a mixture of bemusing sincerity and thwarted innuendo.
‘It’s a very sexual feeling, working with clay’, says James, a Bristol vet we’re supposed to fancy. ‘Size matters,’ Presenter Sara Cox assures us. ‘It’s almost kind of spiritual,’ says West Sussex parish councillor Joanna. It’s ‘a bit wet’ says Professor Bill Lee, a talking head. Retired major Tom says ‘I’m hot’. (Major Tom, geddit? Rock ‘n Roll.) The process of ‘pulling’ handles looks a bit rude, too.
But let’s be honest: how much sex-appeal can you expect from a show in which one of its judges says to camera, without irony: ‘This is where it all began – Stoke-On-Trent’?
The Great Pottery Throw Down doesn’t make a case for the sexiness of pottery, but it does highlight the link between pottery and the less appetising aspects of sex: it’s messy, sometimes awkward, mechanical, and often unintentionally funny.
Guided by ceramic artist Kate Malone (‘I’m chasing that next colour that I haven’t invented yet’) and Jones (owner of possibly the worst couture comb-over on TV: imagine Nigel Kennedy with only the back-half of his mohawk), the would-bes have to make a set of bowls, decorate them, ‘pull’ some handles for mugs and see who can make the most egg-cups in a set time.
The latter challenge is called the throw down, the name of which – we are told – doesn’t come from throwing clay at the wheel, but from an Old English verb meaning to twist and turn.
There’s a reliable BBC breadth of recurring types from every other mind-mannered reality show: Builder Nigel fulfils the role of big gruff fella who can yet turn his hand to something dainty, like dancing or decorating a cake. (We are supposedly encouraged to ignore the natural kinship between building and pottery). You’ve got Matthew, a young guy with dreadlocks and a waistcoat rather than, say, a hat and a waistcoat, marking him out from previous ‘hipster’ contestants on similar shows. Expect people, if they talk about this show at all, to say he’s ruining pottery for normal folks.
The parallels persist. Contestants line their work up anonymously for the judges to inspect, as in the Great British Bake Off. But instead of the title of Star Baker they are competing for the accolade of Top Potter, except that it doesn’t really seem to matter who was top potter or bottom potter. The Great Pottery Throw Down is curiously lacking in jeopardy. When somebody is eventually sent home (not for any big faux pas: just for not being as good as the competition), they take it in good cheer. What a disappointing response, considering all the crockery there was to smash.
BBC2’s The Great Pottery Throw Down airs at 9pm on Tuesdays.