SARAH VINE’s My TV Week: Aspirational, inspiring…why Sewing Bee is giving me a real buzz


The Great British Sewing Bee Wednesday, BBC1


I have to admit, I’ve been addicted to Sewing Bee since the first series, presented by Claudia Winkleman, in 2013. Winkleman moved on to more glittery pastures, but the show survived, and more importantly, grew in popularity.

Comedian Joe Lycett took over as presenter, adding his brand of dry humor and outlandish dress sense, and one of the show’s original judges, May Martin, was replaced by the legendary Esme Young.

Young is the lookalike of one of my favorite cartoon characters, superhero seamstress Edna ‘No Capes’ Mode in The Incredibles (above). Same 60s bucket hat, same glasses, same uncompromising attitude.

His co-judge, Patrick Grant, was constantly present throughout the proceedings, bringing his expertise and enthusiasm to Savile Row. If anyone can spot the silk purse in a sow’s ear, it’s Patrick.

New presenter for The Great British Sewing Bee Sara Pascoe (centre) with judges Patrick Grant and Esme Young

New presenter for The Great British Sewing Bee Sara Pascoe (centre) with judges Patrick Grant and Esme Young

The candidates have also changed. At first they were the kind one would expect, women from the Women’s Institute or older ladies skilled at sewing a concealed zipper.

The winner of the first series was the wonderful Ann Rowley who, then 81, brought a wealth of wisdom to the series. Last year’s winner, medical student Serena Baker, has 40,000 Instagram followers and a book coming out in June.

Now in its eighth series, there’s a new presenter, Sara Pascoe. For now, it doesn’t really do it for me. She slightly gives the impression that she thinks this is all a huge joke.

Yes, it’s ironic. Likewise, you don’t want to end up insulting the public or, for that matter, the contestants, who take it very seriously.

Sarah Vine (pictured) says she doesn't like Sara Pascoe as the new presenter because she makes it look like a

Sarah Vine (pictured) says she doesn’t like Sara Pascoe as the new presenter because she makes it look like a ‘big joke’

For me, the appeal is simple: growing up, my mom made most of my clothes. She was a seamstress by necessity, not by choice—I still remember one of my parents’ biggest arguments over my father’s reluctance to buy her an electric sewing machine to replace his hand-cranked Singer.

She even made me a dress for my 18th birthday, a ruffled creation from the 80s.

Of course, in those days, making your own clothes wasn’t cool. Now, like so many things that were once considered tedious chores, like cooking or growing your own vegetables, it’s become a popular leisure activity.

The show is about couture now being chic

Young people consider it fabulously chic to make their own find or customize a vintage find, something the show’s producers have cleverly understood.

While in the beginning the challenges tended to be more traditional in nature – following a pattern, creating an A-line skirt – the focus in this new series is on reusing existing garments as something else, or letting creativity run wild. ‘imagination.

Luckily, among the wonky trainers and half-sewn horrors, there are still some real gems.

This is, I think, the main attraction of Sewing Bee. It’s inspiring and ambitious, and it draws on old-school techniques to tap into modern trends. Long may it continue.

Hallelujah for another hot priest!

Essex Snake Friday, Apple TV+


Claire Danes is Cora (left, with Tom Hiddleston as Will), in The Essex Serpent based on the book by Sarah Perry

Claire Danes is Cora (left, with Tom Hiddleston as Will), in The Essex Serpent based on the book by Sarah Perry

If you like (as I’m afraid) slow, atmospheric dramas with sweeping vistas and dark, mysterious characters, then this is definitely the show for you.

Based on Sarah Perry’s book, it has a wonderful late Victorian vibe (the costumes are fabulous) and stars Tom Hiddleston as Will, the curate of a remote village in the Essex marshes where something very particular stalks the inhabitants.

Claire Danes is Cora, a wealthy widow with a penchant for paleontology who finds herself drawn to mystery and, inevitably, Hiddleston himself, who gives Fleabag’s “burning priest” Andrew Scott a hard time.

But the locals, whose belief in ancient myths far exceeds their understanding of science, don’t take Cora, especially after a young girl is found dead.

Clémence Poésy (always a treat) plays Will’s wife, and Frank Dillane is rather brilliant as Cora’s dodgy Luke, an arrogant pretending surgeon from London, who looks suitably deadly like a man spending his free time cutting up corpses.

A drama of exceptional class, beautifully adapted by Anna Symon and quite possibly worth the Apple subscription alone.

  • The term PTSD – which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder – has become somewhat overused in recent years; but if you want to know what the real thing looks like, then Fergal Keane: Living With PTSD (Monday, BBC2) has provided a fascinating but sobering insight. I’m old enough to remember Keane when he started out in the 1980s, a fresh-faced war correspondent with a Rick Astley hairstyle who reported on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the genocide in Rwanda. Today, the hair is white and the face is cast in permanent shadow, haunted by the ghosts of the many horrors it has witnessed. A timely and important documentary.

Come fly with Jeremy

Sarah explained that Jeremy Spake's personality and flamboyance elevated the series, Airport

Sarah explained that Jeremy Spake’s personality and flamboyance elevated the series, Airport

Young readers may not remember Jeremy Spake, unwitting star of the original Airport series, which first aired in 1996 and is flying again (Monday, BBC1).

It was conceived as a slightly dry BBC documentary on the workings of Heathrow, but Parlait’s personality and flamboyance elevated it to something more.

In the new show, he hasn’t changed much – sadly, the same cannot be said for his industry which is facing a severe crisis.


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