Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
25 May 2022

Grayson’s Art Club Jubilee special: a terrifying extravaganza for the bunting obsessed

If television is, as I believe it to be, a barometer of national cultural health, this country is getting madder by the minute.

By Rachel Cooke

Everyone of a certain age remembers the Blue Peter advent crown. Fashioned from a wire coat hanger, some tinsel and four candles, it was the sole reason an entire generation of Girl Guides was determined to try to get their firefighter badge (well, that and the promise of sliding down the firemen’s pole – or am I just speaking for myself?). But I must be honest. It wasn’t at the front of my mind when I began watching the Queen’s Jubilee special edition of Grayson’s Art Club. I was expecting stuckist daubs, crocheted corgis and the odd risqué object formed from clay, not Prue Leith deciding to ignore every health and safety regulation going by constructing a similar highly flammable monstrosity. Though now I think of it, having voted for Brexit, perhaps she is already impatient for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s promised bonfire of the quangos.

Leith arrived at the studio, dressed as a rainbow, with an idea for a chandelier-come-installation. It was going to be majorly camp, and would make use of her collection of old teacups, which would hang from it along with many strings of coloured beads – and yes, there would be candles, too, which, as Grayson pointed out later, did rather bring John Noakes et al to mind. Not that he cared. On the contrary. If Grayson’s Turner Prize-winning pots have their roots in the fine earthenwares of the late 18th century, his TV shows also connect to those of the past: to Blue Peter, Vision On, The Generation Game. As for his Art Club, it’s as British as the Queen herself, purpose-built for a nation whose people have turned bunting into a kind of religion; for whom the words “Crayola” and “crafting” are far more beautiful than anything in Milton or Shakespeare; who think nothing of using a boiled sweet as a ruby in their (not very) convincing replica of the crown jewels.

[See also: The Jubilee Pudding celebrates a historic milestone with piles of jelly and lashings of cream]

Grayson’s wife, Philippa, who is a psychotherapist as well as his co-presenter, said that a surprising number of people dream about the Queen – and at times I did feel I was in a nightmare. Margaret Seaton’s woollen model of Sandringham, the result of spending 15 hours a day for two years with her knitting needles clacking, was bad enough; creepy in the way that model villages are creepy. But it was nothing compared to the comedian Harry Hill’s project, which involved him sticking a pair of huge foam lips over his own, covering them in black paint, and pressing his face against a roll of paper as he said the words: “Congratulations, Your Majesty, on your Platinum Jubilee.” Honestly, this happened. But hey, the idea of the Art Club is that everybody can join in. Even the utterly terrifying. Even – there may be some crossover here – Brian May fans (work inspired by Queen, the band, was popular).

At the heart of it all, like some crazed impresario lining up new music-hall acts, was Grayson, who was all the while attempting to choose work submitted by the public to include in a special Jubilee exhibition. I’m still not sure if this exhibition is merely notional, a realm to be wandered only in our minds, but if it is real, I boggle at the thought of where it might be held. The Tate? The Serpentine? The end of Blackpool Pier? You would take his wild praise for the loopy things people send in as insincere were it not for the fact that he is fine with liking what others do not – and this, in turn, is what makes him so likeable. He doesn’t give a damn for what is woke or modish.

[See also: Farewell to the iPod – and the age of the personal music library]

At one point, he and Philippa and Prue watched TV footage of the Queen’s coronation, and when it was over – when the dukes and earls were ready to throw their coronets in the air – he pronounced himself moved. “A human sacrifice!” he said of HRH, swarmed by chinless men in ermine. And then, with more relish: “She looked vulnerable!” The whole production was, he pronounced, a seriously good bit of performance art, something that may still have been in his mind when, later on, he sang Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”, seemingly in honour of HMQ, while boogying round the room. Oh, boy. If television is, as I believe it to be, a barometer of our national cultural health, this country is getting madder by the minute.

Content from our partners
The green transition can unlock 40,000 new businesses and £175bn
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”

Grayson’s Art Club
Channel 4, aired 25 May, 10pm; now on catch-up

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Topics in this article : ,

This article appears in the 25 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Out of Control