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Haven’t we suffered enough from male celeb travel shows? Bradley Walsh in Mexico was a dark moment

Make it stop: Some of the many celebrity-driven travel shows to plague the airwaves in recent years  (BBC/NETFLIX/ITV)
Make it stop: Some of the many celebrity-driven travel shows to plague the airwaves in recent years (BBC/NETFLIX/ITV)

Stop! You there! Are you a man of a certain age who enjoys staring off into the middle distance? Do you wish to exhibit your mid-life male bonafides but wish not to merely stuff a sock down the front of your trousers and call it a day? Were you also very famous 10 or 15 years ago? The navel-gazing travel show may just be the answer for you.

Throw a dart at a copy of the Radio Times and you will inevitably land on one of numerous new holiday programmes presented by celebrities with no discernible interest in food, drink and tourism beyond “I like doing it”. Keith Lemon and Will Mellor drove cars in Albania. Mark Wright went to Snowdonia. Martin Compston took skiing lessons in Oslo. Gordon Ramsay, Gino D’Acampo and Fred Sirieix have road-tripped through France, Scotland, Finland and Greece. Italy has come under sustained attack: Clive Myrie made tiramisu there, Strictly’s Giovanni Pernice and Anton Du Beke raced each other in three-wheeled taxis in Sicily, Danny Dyer and his daughter Dani have sampled the country’s eateries (“Not as good as Pizza Hut,” the older Dyer grumbled). Between all of this and Brexit, Europe surely has even more reason to despise us.

These programmes are full of wide-angle drone shots and confected drama, usually involving flat tyres or heavy wind. The starry friendships seem confected much of the time, too. Martin Clunes and Mel Giedroyc roaming Britain? Amanda Holden and Alan Carr building a house together? By the time I witnessed Ruby Wax, Emily Atack and Mel B climbing a mountain for BBC One, I was convinced I’d begun hallucinating. Next week sees the BBC insisting upon even more Giovanni and Anton, this time for Adventures in Spain. Haven’t we – and the poor, defenceless locals of these places, frankly – suffered enough?

This is not, surprisingly, a new phenomenon. In the halcyon days of Michael Palin doing a bit of trainspotting or trekking across the Himalayas, the BBC commissioned any number of Palin-alikes to do much the same. Remember Joanna Lumley stuck on a beach? Or Sue Johnston’s journey to Tibet? In the mid-Noughties, a motorcycle-riding Ewan McGregor basically invented the concept of handsome celebrities slathering themselves in muck and getting lost in the wilderness. The strained, brawny odysseys of Bear Grylls and his metaphorical cubs – see Zac Efron’s Down to Earth, or don’t because it was abysmal – came later.

That said, it is undeniable that the number of these kinds of shows has ramped up in recent years. It may have something to do with the depressing success of Jack Whitehall’s Travels with My Father, in which the plummy comic journeyed across the world with his dad, scenes of absolutely side-splitting casual racism coming thick and fast. Or programme commissioners completely missed the irony of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s mortifying meta-comedy The Trip and screamed: “More of that! But less fun!”

Gold standard: ‘Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing’ is the rare exception to the rule when it comes to celebrity travel shows (BBC)
Gold standard: ‘Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing’ is the rare exception to the rule when it comes to celebrity travel shows (BBC)

Outside of a few of these shows that are genuinely quite lovely – the gentle, dad-joke meander that is Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, for example, remains this genre’s gold standard – the results are typically rotten. Wit and curiosity are sacrificed at the altar of mindless bants. Enthusiasm for different cultures, or Anthony Bourdain-like charm – gosh, his Parts Unknown food and travel series was brilliant – are swapped out for macho competitiveness and faux language-barrier hijinks. Many are mere variations on The Grand Tour, only with slightly prettier people.

They’re also incredibly male. And seemingly by design. In 2019, the comedian London Hughes sparked justifiable bafflement when she revealed on Twitter that she and Whoopi Goldberg could not, for the life of them, get a channel to commission a show in which they did everything from travelling to Ibiza to sitting in a caravan “making sausages”, adding: “It’s me and Whoopi Goldberg, who wouldn’t want to watch that?”

A number of female comedians replied to Hughes’s tweet, saying they’d also struggled to get a foothold in the “funny people going on holiday for the telly” genre, including Gina Yashere and Meera Syal. If Holidaying with Jane McDonald is anything to go by, I don’t believe more female representation in these shows will necessarily boost their quality. But if broadcasters insist on commissioning celebrity holiday crud, at least make it equal opportunity celebrity holiday crud.

Better than that, though, why not just cease most of these things altogether? Holidays are becoming more and more expensive, with Tui revealing last summer that prices had risen on average by 27 per cent since 2019. It means it’s increasingly icky to watch the already wealthy embark on free vacations on behalf of creatively bankrupt TV channels; stars larking about experiencing far-away destinations that many can only ever dream of. Isn’t there something a bit bleak about that?

There’s little sign of this trend coming to a close, though. And if you thought the genre’s nadir was Bradley Walsh encountering Mexico’s most dangerous bats with his aspiring TV personality son Barney – think an evil Roman Kemp – then you are wrong. Currently in production by ITV is a show in which Gary Barlow ventures across South Africa to learn about wines. Which is somewhat apt because who wouldn’t want to hit the bottle after witnessing the world’s most boring man “learning about the variety of grapes”. Scintillating!