CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Anneka Rice has got saucier with age

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Anneka Rice has ditched the jumpsuit, but she’s got saucier with age

Challenge Anneka

Rating: ****


Rating: ** 

That’s awkward. Grabbing a phone and dialling frantically to find kind souls willing to donate to her charity challenge, Anneka Rice came up against the problem of youth.

She name-checked the programme. ‘Are you familiar with it?’ she asked. ‘Not really… no,’ came the dubious reply. ‘Is there anyone there a bit older?’ Anneka pleaded.

You’d have to be a certain age to remember the original Challenge Anneka (Ch5). But if you’re over 40, it’ll seem incredible that anyone could be unaware. Back before the internet got properly started, our Anneka was pictured in the papers almost as often as Princess Di.

This has been a good month for remembering blonde superstars of 1980s telly. Last week’s excellent double bill on Paula Yates brought back a landslide of memories.

But poor Paula died more than 20 years ago. Anneka, who was born six months before her, is barely changed since her heyday. The chief difference is that she now wears an anorak and a toolbelt, instead of that jumpsuit.

Anneka Rice on ITV’s Lorraine 

‘Back before the internet got properly started, our Anneka was pictured in the papers almost as often as Princess Di’

The show ran on BBC1 from 1989 to 1996, with a couple of ITV specials in the Noughties, and as it returns on Ch5, Anneka is still buzzing around in a helicopter with Dave the Soundman, tackling ambitious community projects at breakneck speed. 

If anything, she’s got saucier with age. Flirting with an electrical supplier who invited her to ransack his warehouse, she told him, ‘Thank you for letting us rummage in your back area.’

But her naughtiness is squeaky clean, compared to Paula’s. There’s always been a wholesome streak of the head girl about Annie.

She had little difficulty persuading local tradesmen to muck in with the refurbishment of Foal Farm rescue centre in Kent, which needed a refit for its kennels. Everyone wanted to help the dogs, especially local children.

There are obvious parallels with the Beeb’s DIY SOS, which started a couple of years after Challenge Anneka was dropped. The difference is that, while Nick Knowles keeps the focus on his team of builders and designers, Anneka wants to meet all the volunteers.

Sometimes, as they rush to meet her impossible deadlines, she gets in the way, but only a curmudgeon could feel cross with her. One bloke was more than happy to chat. 

Annie was all of a flutter. ‘Do you think,’ she wondered, ‘that delightful young man has gone to building school to learn how to say, “How you doin’, sweets? You all right, darlin’?” ’

‘I love that!’ she added. Now you are showing your age, Anneka — language like that from construction workers has been outlawed.

Series three of Grace on ITV1

Craig Parkinson as DS Norman Potting and Laura Elphinstone as DS Bella Moy

There was no leeway for sexist language on Grace (ITV1), the crime drama starring John Simm, where wolf whistling is an arrestable offence. It was obvious that taxi driver Johnny was a sex offender from the moment he commented on a passenger’s shade of lipstick.

A dash of humour was injected as Grace’s sidekick, DS Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell), moved in with him after leaving his girlfriend. Glenn moaned that his boss didn’t have Netflix. Grace moaned his junior colleague left dirty plates in his room: ‘It’s like living with a teenager.’

But it’s difficult to believe in the joke. Perhaps a detective superintendent might give his sergeant a bed for the night — but surely he wouldn’t put up with it for weeks on end?

I know it’s tough for Millennials to afford their own property, but is everyone who’s old enough to remember Challenge Anneka now obliged to run their homes like a B&B? That’s when youth really does become a problem.

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