Looking for quality British "reality" programming
February 18, 2011 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Looking for quality British "reality" programming....

In the past I've enjoyed shows like Long Way Down/Around, Michael Palin's stuff, etc, and I'd like to find more British "reality" programming, past and present. I like travel and adventure -- so stuff like that is definitely what I'm looking for -- but I also like general human interest stories as well. The biggest criteria is that it is non-fiction. What do you recommend?
posted by nitsuj to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Try the UK Kitchen Nightmares - quite a few have been uploaded to YouTube. Eons away from the trashy American version, it's the most enthralling deconstruction of running a business I've ever watched. Sublime viewing.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:06 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

For adventure stuff, look for Ray Mears (goes places, finds stuff and eats it, sometimes starting fires by rubbing two sticks together) and Bruce Parry (more modern technology and traditional hallucinogens).
posted by Lebannen at 6:18 AM on February 18, 2011

Mary Portas has done a few good series recently. She's a retail expert and turns businesses around - usually with dramatic results. One series she did small business, recent series she's done large chains. http://www.maryportas.com/secretshopper/
posted by daveyt at 6:23 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Easily the most talked-about programme in ALL of my social circles right now is "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings".

It seems soooo trashy to start with and it kind of is, but there's a whole subculture there which I just knew nothing about. It's completely engrossing.

posted by greenish at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2011

I really like the Wonderland series of documentaries. They aren't exactly 'reality television', but have something about them that I enjoy.

UK Apprentice is great, and there was also a recent series where a woman went to live as a bride with a remote tribe (I think it may have been called Tribal Wives) that is far less exploitative than any of that sounds.,
posted by mippy at 6:27 AM on February 18, 2011

Some Top Gear episodes have what you want - motorbiking through Vietnam, driving a SUV to the North Pole, road tripping around the US south, etc.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:28 AM on February 18, 2011

Go WAY back and check out "Now Get out of That!" from the BBC in 1981. My conception is that if you took a random selection of mefi readers, assembled us into acrimonious teams, put us on a freezing Scottish moor and asked us to make something with a gas canister, a house brick and a balloon against a time limit - it would be like this. Presenter Bernard Falk provides the protean sarcastic commentary.
posted by rongorongo at 6:30 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are some good suggestions in this thread, and I'll restate my recommendation of Simon Reeve's various travel programmes, which fit perfectly with your preference of travel and adventure mixed with human interest.
posted by afx237vi at 6:30 AM on February 18, 2011

Come Dine with Me can be very enjoyable.
posted by quaisi at 6:30 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

You don't really seem to be looking for "reality TV" but should enjoy this:
  • Bruce Parry is amazing - Amazon is much better than his recent Arctic series.
  • Obviously Louis Theroux can't be missed.
  • Ray Mears is pretty cool if it's new to you.

posted by turkeyphant at 6:32 AM on February 18, 2011

Louis Theroux is great to a point. After a while I get tired of the faux naif thing and I just find him tiresome. Also the LOL AMERICANS thing can be a bit frustrating if you are one.

Ray Mears is my personal hero. Forget Bear Grylls. If I were stuck out in the wilderness somewhere I'd want Ray Mears with me. So anything with him, but ESPECIALLY Wild Food.

My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings is good, but cringeworthy.

The Supersizers... is great if you're into food and history.

Oz and James' Big Wine Adventure is great if you're into travel and wine. (Similarly there's Oz and James Drink to Britain, Oz and Hugh Drink to Christmas, and Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar.)

Even if you don't like cars Top Gear is hugely entertaining. Especially the special episodes that usually involve travel, challenges, and Richard Hammond moaning about the local food.

I really enjoyed Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbors.

Stephen Fry in America was lovely.

Around the World in 80 Faiths was wonderful.

All I watch is British documentary type programs but that's all I can think of for now.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:50 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Great Railway Journeys
posted by vbfg at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2011

It's more of a documentary, but the Up Series is fantastic. I think it's streaming on Netflix. It follows a number of British kids from various socioeconomic backgrounds, starting when they're 7 in 1964 (the first one is 7 Up) and checks in with them every 7 years. The most recent one is 49 Up. It's fascinating.
posted by apricot at 7:27 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved Long Way Down too, you might enjoy Jamie Olivers travelogue and crusade style shows, they are:

Jamie's American Road Trip
Jamie Does...(lots of cooking but its all framed within the context of the country and the culture and is truly fascinating)

Jamie's Kitchen
Jamie's Ministry of Food
Jamie's School Dinners
posted by Ness at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2011

Ray Mears

End of discussion.
posted by fire&wings at 7:39 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thirding Big Fat Gypsy Wedding with all the caveats included.

I'm currently recording Human Planet and the odd clip I've seen looks promising.

Also, it is impossible to go wrong with anything narrated by the treasure that is David Attenborough.
posted by like_neon at 7:47 AM on February 18, 2011

Another vote for the awesome Ray Mears.
posted by elizardbits at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

At the moment I'm enjoying Who Does What (couples submit to a time and motion study to reveal the true division of housework, then show them the results, which they're always astonished by) and Can't Take It With You (Gerry Robinson and a lawyer help people write their wills and talk them out of making terrible decisions). Both are showing on BBC2 now.

I also loved Channel 4's Secret Millionaire (millionaire lives incognito in an impoverished area and then gives monetary gifts to individuals or organisations he's met)—it used to make me cry buckets.

And seconding The Supersizers Eat.... It's hilarious, and Giles Coren and Sue Perkins are really charismatic.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:09 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh I also second anything with Giles Coren and Sue Perkins! I really enjoy their dynamic.
posted by like_neon at 8:34 AM on February 18, 2011

I highly recommend the Edwardian Country House!

It's about ten years old, not sure if you can get it in America, but it's a great mix of a reality TV programme with historical fact/recreation. There's also some more recent programme such as Victorian Farm/Edwardian Pharmacy which are along the same lines and are also brilliant.
posted by Encipher at 9:15 AM on February 18, 2011

2nding Secret Millionaire
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2011

On Thin Ice - presenter Ben Fogle and rower James Cracknell compete together in a race to the South pole. Both my boyfriend and I (both big fans of Long Way Down/Around) particularly enjoyed this one.

By Any Means - Charley Boorman of Long Way Down/Around travelling around using as many means of transport as possible.

Grand Designs - each episode follows the progress of of a unique home build.

Also nthing Bruce Parry, Oz and James, Top Gear (especially the special episodes where they go on some big adventure), Jamie Oliver (Jamie's Kitchen was my favourite), and the UK Apprentice.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 9:39 AM on February 18, 2011

Try Faking It, which was broadcast on Channel 4 a few years ago (and is still available via 4od in the UK). Especially the episode Cellist to DJ.
posted by jonathanbell at 9:40 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

i was going to suggest Stephen Fry in America. we're half way through and I'm loving it! it's a little quick and some states get short changed (really, stephen, all of arkansas is one weird guy on the mississippi?) but it is really good, if you like stephen fry.

his partner in crime (well, QI) Alan Davies had a show called "Teenage Revolution" - apparently the british tv critics hated it, but i quite enjoyed it. it's a retrospective on a middle class kid going through the 80s.
posted by nadawi at 10:46 AM on February 18, 2011

I can't believe no one has mentioned The Choir. It's about a young choir director, and each season he takes a group of people that wouldn't ordinarily be into singing and makes a choir out of them. One season he went to an all-boys prep school where the kids thought that singing was for girls, and by the end of the season he had a full choir performing at the Royal Albert Hall. Another season had him forming a community choir in a lower class neighborhood.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Come Dine With Me (and its Australian cousin) are brilliant. Dave Lamb (the narrator) is a snarky genius.

The Mary Portas recommendation is also a good one. Her 'Mary Queen of Charity Shops' series was great.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:03 PM on February 18, 2011

I loved the the "House" shows Encipher mentioned, particularly Manor House and Regency House Party.

I also enjoyed Rough Science and more recently, An Idiot Abroad
posted by chrisulonic at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Came here to recommend the various "House" series as well -- they're well done and lots of fun.
posted by scody at 12:38 PM on February 18, 2011

Coast is one. Tales of the Green Valley is another.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:16 PM on February 18, 2011

I second Grand Designs and The Supersizers (favourite tv in a long time!).

The Baby Borrowers takes teenage couples, puts them in a house and gives them other people to look after (first week a baby, second week a toddler, then a child, teenager, old age pensioner).
posted by AnnaRat at 1:59 PM on February 18, 2011

Changing Rooms - the show that Trading Spaces was based on.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:33 PM on February 18, 2011

More documentaries than reality shows, but I've enjoyed Tweed, Savile Row, and The Savoy recently.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:19 PM on February 19, 2011

There's also Disappearing London which is more in line with what your asking after, I think.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:21 PM on February 19, 2011

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