Call it the potter’s wheel genre, after the most famous of the BBC’s “interlude” films: five-minute stretches of lightly engaging and soothing footage shown in the 40s and 50s to cover breaks between programmes. There was one showing a lady (of course) embroidering, someone working a spinning wheel, a team of horses ploughing a field or, most enduringly in the public consciousness, a man throwing and modelling a pot.
Now we have seamless programming, but a great void in our souls and, especially during this grim past year, a growing need for material that – like those short films – will restore us to ourselves. Thus, the airwaves are filled with shows built round the premise that watching people do something practical or creative speaks to us in a way that nothing else can, and gives us – in some obscure way – a sense of the purpose we have lost along with God, our prelapsarian innocence and the ready availability of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.
The most excellent example of the genre is The Repair Shop – gentle, lovely experts doing gentle, lovely, expert things to a variety of old articles owned by a variety of gentle, lovely people. You end the three-quarters of an hour feeling as restored as any marquetry box or rag doll that has received their tender ministrations. Similar strength can be drawn from The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Sewing Bee, The Great Pottery Throwdown and now from the newest entrant into the field: All That Glitters (BBC Two).
Subtitled Britain’s Next Jewellery Star, the series gently pits eight lovely contestants against each other via two challenges a week set by the “jewellery maker to the stars” Shaun Leane and the award-winning jewellery and interior designer Solange Azagury-Partridge. The whole is overseen by the comedian, writer and actor Katherine Ryan. At best, they all need a bit of bedding in. On first showing, both judges lack the necessary warmth and detailed enthusiasm that makes these programmes really sing, and Azagury-Partridge – perhaps through nerves or inexperience – seems locked in a downbeat monotone even when she is on the safest ground. Although she looks the ineffably glamorous part, Ryan doesn’t counterbalance much of this. Her strengths are deadpan quips and comedy ruthlessness. The sight, in particular, of her trying to simulate interest in a contestant’s backstory is actually quite anxiety-inducing. She looks like she may be about to rupture something.
But no matter. The contestants, their creativity and their apparently endless array of skills carry the day. Their first challenge is to make a “bestseller” – a set of three silver bangles from a 1.2mm-thick sheet of silver, that would have mass commercial appeal. They have three hours to accomplish what is, to the layperson watching, magic. And they do it. Sonny – previously a footballer and a personal trainer until he started teaching himself jewellery-making from the internet and books – makes a gorgeous Bauhaus-inspired trio, while Dan goes for a bee theme, and makes one of his bangles a honeycomb-like hexagon. Naomi does lovely engraving, but messes up her solder (Shaun can see it on the inside join), and Kim has a consistent design, but the result is uneven … And so gently on and so gently forth.
By the halfway point, the viewer’s traditional journey is well under way, firmly on the side of all participants (“They are creating beauty!” – you sob, as you watch them twist, carve, “pierce out” precious metal and literally bend it to their will – “where none existed before! These people are angels! Precious angels! Let them all fly!”)
The next challenge is to make something bespoke – a statement necklace for Andy, who has fostered 150 children over her lifetime and is about to receive an MBE from the Queen. Her son, Ben, gives a little talk about her, and off they all go to render the essence of a life in 80g of silver and a range of coloured metal offcuts for detailing. Oak leaves with forget-me-not decorations spring up, alongside kintsugi-influenced geometric shards and a forest cottage scene set inside its own frame. “Beautiful piercing out,” you find yourself murmuring, before shaking your head at someone’s overambitious hinging. The journey to armchair expert is a short and inexorable one.
You can tell the winner long before they announce it. Justice is done, in this tiny corner of an unforgiving world. We’ll be back next week for more magic, even if we are all experts now.