Jamie Oliver’s quest to rid the nation of all the things that rots its soul has arrived at stupidity. Only it’s not stupidity. The kids – from ‘all backgrounds’, ie, one token posh hoodlum and a bunch of distracted, disruptive, diabolical drop-outs – are, in his eyes, “brilliant”. A conclusion he rapidly arrives at, basing their educational misery as analogous to his own. And hoping that they will discover some latent, stellar talent that will be lured into existence through a few lessons taught by the great and the good (and the obnoxious if you include Alastair Campbell) of British culture.
It’s a noble ambition and one that continues Jamie’s heartfelt desire to enhance the prospects of the downtrodden and dispossessed members of society.
Sadly, all of his good work is smashed to smithereens within a few hours. David Starkey has been hired to teach history. To liven up the lessons and revive the slug-like grey matter lying dormant in the pupils’ craniums, he brings in some Anglo-Saxon gold. This, he hopes, will impress the ‘bling’-obsessed generation.
But it’s as misguided as the rest of the escapade. No sooner has Starkey started to lecture – which Jamie had said was the main reason the kids loathed school – the pupils (calling them “failures”) than he is embroiled in a slanging match with Conor. Starkey snapped: “You are so fat you can hardly move.”
This enrages Conor and destabilises everything Jamie had said about building up the kids’ confidences. Conor isn’t without blame. In spite of Jamie’s insistence that all the kids are “brilliant”, Conor is an easily recognisable type to anyone who has ever attended school. A vulgar, obstreperous bully. And so it’s difficult to feel much sympathy with him. Even more so, when he later says to his mother, “I felt like picking up a table and throwing it at him.”
Conor was one of the pupils picked out for star treatment in the first episode, and, provided he doesn’t get expelled, will be one of those through whom the success of the experiment will be measured.
You see, there are elements of Dream School ripped wholesale from the DIY Book of Inspirational Documentary Series. The first of which is to establish in the first episode a sense of hopelessness and despair not felt since the Luftwaffe were bombing the hell out of Coventry with sneering impunity.
The ever-jovial Rolf Harris is a broken man at the end of his first art class, lamenting his failure to inspire the pupils with the same despondency as someone who has just watched a small child drown after swimming to within three feet of the place where their soft, brown mop of hair was sucked beneath the churning waters.
But amid all this depression, we already have our first success story! Henry, the token posh kid, was sullen and apathetic ahead of his sailing trip with Ellen MacArthur, speaking to his long-suffering parents with the same ill grace and impudence as Kevin the Teenager.
However, one trip round the Isle of Wight, pulling a few ropes and getting a bit wet and he returns home a new boy. He apologises for putting his parents through years of hell and seems to be turning over a new leaf.
Seemingly, a couple of days later in a one-to-one class with Rolf and he’s throwing his toys out of the pram again.