CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: New Lives In The Wild

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Even the flintiest of hearts can’t help but succumb to Ben’s charm

Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild

Rating: ***** 

Bradley and Barney Walsh: Breaking Dad 

Rating: ** 

That Ben Fogle, what a charmer he is. If he ever switches career to enter politics, one rueful smile and a couple of soulful gazes will send him straight into Downing Street.

Ben makes a career of coaxing grumpy curmudgeons to love him, employing the self-deprecating wit of Louis Theroux, with the cheeky twinkle of Ant and Dec.

Later in this series of New Lives In The Wild (C5), he returns to the lawless Slab City in California, where he has befriended its population of junkies and weirdos. This time, though, he was in the rainforests of northern Australia to meet an eco-hermit named Bette.

This time on New Lives in the Wild, Ben Fogle was in the rainforests of northern Australia to meet an eco-hermit named Bette

Bette was 79 and what the locals called ‘a colourful character’. When construction companies tried to drain the Queensland swamps, it was Bette who lay down in front of the bulldozers — and, at first, she took the same obstructive attitude to Ben’s arrival.

If he wanted to eat while he was her guest, she declared, he’d have to cook for himself. He could make her meals, too, while he was about it.

And though her house in the wetlands had only holes in the walls for its windows and doors, Ben wasn’t allowed to sleep there. He got a mosquito net, a mattress and a sheet of corrugated tin for a roof. 

Bette’s idea of hospitality was embodied by Sid Vicious, her mongrel terrier: ‘He’s got a bit of a personality problem,’ she warned, ‘so don’t touch him.’ Sid had an undershot jaw, which gave him a permanent snarl. Even Ben looked wary.

But it takes more than a canine punk to undermine his amiability. Ben headed straight for the kitchen, rustling up boiled pasta and a dollop of Vegemite. ‘Do you cook at home very often?’ sneered Bette. ‘Is everybody still alive in your family?’

Undaunted, benign Ben set about the household repairs. He checked the pulleys that hoist Bette’s furniture off the floor whenever her home floods. And he set to work with a shovel, clearing vegetation and spreading gravel.

Grudgingly, and with more than a hint of sarcasm, Bette said it was looking beautiful. Ben is immune to sarcasm. ‘Beautiful?’ he beamed. ‘Me, or the gravel?’

That did the trick. No woman, however cantankerous she pretends to be, can resist Ben when he’s flirting. ‘You can always take your shirt off,’ she encouraged him.

Bette was 79 and what the locals called ‘a colourful character’. By the end of the hour, Bette was pouring out her heart to him, revealing traumas in her past that had driven her to become a recluse

By the end of the hour, Bette was pouring out her heart to him, revealing traumas in her past that had driven her to become a recluse. All that charm had a purpose. No other interviewer on telly could have drawn those secrets from her. 

Bradley Walsh has a cheeky charm, too, but it serves little purpose on his roving adventure holidays with son Barney on Breaking Dad (ITV1).

Brad and Barnes are simply tourists. They treated the people they met in Mexico as human guidebooks, barely bothering to ask their names. 

Most of their daredevil activities appear to be no more than expensive excursions — a dawn ascent in a hot-air balloon, a trek into a cave filled with bats and snakes, that sort of thing.

Bradley Walsh has a cheeky charm, too, but it serves little purpose on his roving adventure holidays with son Barney on Breaking Dad

Even the centrepiece, an ascent up the sheer face of the Pena de la Tanda mountain, turned out to be a disappointment when heavy cloud came down, obscuring the view

A trip to a waterpark seemed especially pointless. Why go to Mexico for that? Blackpool has far better.

The supposedly haunted ‘Island of Dolls’ was just a shoddy scam, where bits of plastic toys were displayed in jars. 

Even the centrepiece, an ascent up the sheer face of the Pena de la Tanda mountain, turned out to be a disappointment when heavy cloud came down, obscuring the view.

I felt like asking for my money back.

Fowl play of the night: Si King and Dave Myers revealed a hidden talent on The Hairy Bikers Go Local (BBC2)

Visiting a Norfolk farm, they herded a flock of free-range geese from one field into another. 

Never mind One Man And His Dog… it’s Two Men And Their Birds. 

Fowl play of the night: Si King and Dave Myers revealed a hidden talent on The Hairy Bikers Go Local (BBC2)

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