The decision to bring back Supermarket Sweep (9 September, 8pm) with Brexit looming is quite a bold one on the part of ITV. Yes, as I write, the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal looks increasingly unlikely. But while the producers were busy preparing gags about leeks for the show’s new host Rylan Clark-Neal – and if ever a man could be said to be born to a job as lowly and mad as the presenter of Supermarket Sweep, it is Clark-Neal, who surely came into the world wrapped in cellophane and three-for-two stickers – this must still have been a distinct possibility. I wonder if they ever worried that come 31 October (the series runs for 20 weeks), its well-stocked aisles would seem mocking in a Britain where lettuce, cheese and some other imported stuff were suddenly all but non-existent.
But that’s enough politics! Clark-Neal replaces the late Dale Winton, who presented Supermarket Sweep, the old student favourite, from 1993 until 2001. Quiz question: why is Clark-Neal famous? Answer (I had to google): having come fifth in the ninth series of The X Factor, he went on to win Celebrity Big Brother 11. Mostly, though, he is celebrated for his teeth, which remind me strongly of the urinals in the Sheffield pub where I worked as a cleaner – after I’d hosed them down, of course. If Clark-Neal was a Sweep contestant (it’s not hard to imagine; in the first show, one team comprised a Michael Bublé impersonator called Adam and his girlfriend, Natasha, a girl whose barbecue- sauce tan and bog-brush eyelashes made me think she was auditioning for Love Island on the sly), he’d doubtless spend his winnings on one of those swanky toothbrushes that fires jets of water at your gums.
Like Winton, he is ostentatiously camp, and prone to exaggerated amazement about virtually everything. “No!” he shrieked, when contestant Michelle revealed that she’d met her teammate Elisha in a bakery (she might as well have said they’d been at a porn shoot, or en route to Mars). Then again, who can blame him for being amazed sometimes? At one point, the three teams were asked to name an ingredient of Caesar salad. “Salad?” asked Natasha, uncertainly. Contestants were then required to identify the celebrity whose till receipt might include such items as two pairs of scissors and a Tim Burton biography. By now, Natasha was on fire. “Lady Gaga!” she announced, triumphantly. Finally, they were shown a fuzzy clip of two celebrities shopping. Who were these mysterious people? “Ewan and Tracy,” said Michelle and Elisha. “Er, who are Ewan and Tracy?” asked Neal-Clark, or words to that effect. “We made Tracy up,” said Michelle. What about Ewan? “We didn’t know how to spell it,” said Elisha. No, me neither. (In case you’re on tenterhooks, the couple in question was Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford.) Henceforth, Private Eye will be able to devote its Dumb Britain column entirely to Supermarket Sweep, job done.
Do I need to tell you how the game works? The gist of it is that over the course of several rounds, teams compete to add seconds to their clock. Those with the longest time accrued then have an advantage in the round, when they must dash through Neal- Clark’s ersatz supermarket filling their trolley with stuff (this must include his ripe for double-entendres shopping list – eg seven carrots, three jars of mint sauce, one extension lead – and at least one “bonus” inflatable). The couple with the most valuable haul wins £3,000.
What, if anything, does it say about UK television specifically, and Britain more generally, that Supermarket Sweep is back? Oh, please. It says nothing at all, beyond the usual. Drama in this country is alive and frantically high-kicking, but what used to be known as light entertainment stinks to high heaven, and not only because it makes your brain rot. We live in the era of Naked Attraction and First Dates Hotel – and they’re both on sodding Channel 4. All we can do is give grateful thanks that this show at least comes with no genitals – though if there isn’t an outsized aubergine joke forthcoming from Neal-Clark quite soon, the producers will have failed in their national duty.
This article appears in the 11 Sep 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron’s legacy of chaos