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Cooking up a storm

Masterchef Ireland (RTE2) and Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (UTV)

I'm not a big fan of cookery programmes but I enjoyed the final of MasterChef Ireland more than I thought I would -- when, that is, it eventually got to the point: the cooking. We had to sit through 25 minutes of the three finalists' backstories before Nick Munier uttered the line: "For the last time in this series, let's cook." The BBC, which has moved its own MasterChef out of primetime and into the afternoons, wraps the whole thing up in a lean 45 minutes.

Still, the food was mouthwatering, the winner, Mary, was a worthy victor and it was nice to see Dylan McGrath, who behaved like an utter b****** in the documentary The Pressure Cooker, chilling out and showing his supportive side.

Contestant Christine O'Sullivan is pictured



You're not supposed to say a bad word about Joanna Lumley, elegant, ageless beauty, star of Absolutely Fabulous, heroine to the Gurkha soldiers and, of course, British national treasure.

But since we're not British, let's say a bad word: irritating.

Yes, I find Joanna Lumley irritating. Not spectacularly irritating, just mildly irritating. But irritating nonetheless.

She was at her most mildly irritating (if that makes linguistic sense) in Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey.

Now is probably not the ideal time to be sending a pampered celebrity to make a lightweight series about Greece, which is balancing on the brink of complete economic and social collapse, and certainly not a celebrity called Joanna Lumley.

Would the Greeks, who are currently suffering ballooning unemployment, brutal tax increases, vanishing pensions, savagely austere wage cuts -- which have halved the income in some households -- and simmering resentment and social unrest, really appreciate Lumley wandering among them, saying how everything was "fantastic", "tremendous", "stunning", "wonderful" and "fabulous"? Probably not.

In the event, Lumley was kept well clear of trouble, because this was the ITV celebrity travelogue at its most vapid.

The closest she came to the reality of the Greece of today, which may not have too many tomorrows left, was a visit to a glitzy nightclub, or bouzoukia, in Athens, which can hold 5,000 patrons and where people still pay €60 for a plate of flowers to throw at the entertainers.

They used to pay to break plates, before the practice was outlawed because of too many accidental injuries. Lumley was amazed by all this, not least because the people in the nightclub didn't seem "tremendously rich".

Yep, there's a devastating social insight right there.

Otherwise, this was strictly tourist Greece, with Lumley wafting like a wisp of yellow smoke around the great historical attractions.

She did the Acropolis -- one national treasure conversing with another -- and watched craftsmen (whose wages have probably been slashed by 50pc) painstakingly restoring the worn marble of the Parthenon with dental instruments.

At the Gates of Hades, a small cave-mouth that used to be the end of the known world, she threw flowers, coins and a pearl into the water as offerings to the gods. From the look on the face of the boatman who brought her there, I'm guessing he'd have a more practical use for that pearl.

She shed a little tear (but no mascara) as Nana Mouskouri sang for her in the ancient Epidaurus theatre, where the natural acoustics are perfect.

She visited a village where the locals communicate in a language of whistles (a legacy of the ancient Persians who used to whistle when an intruder approached) and ate wild asparagus with an elderly woman, the last inhabitant of a ghost village.

The scenery was predictably magnificent but there was nothing in Lumley's anodyne commentary that you wouldn't find in a guide book. I will give her one thing, though: she's a professional thespian through and through -- an utter luvvie, unselfconsciously ooh-ing and aah-ing and going into gesticulating raptures over every rock and flower, even when in the middle of a pack of ordinary holidaymakers who didn't used to be one of The New Avengers.





Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey 1/5 Masterchef Ireland 3/5