Britain’s Most Spectacular Backyard Builds

From the spinning jenny to the internet, it’s often said Britain invented the modern world. But not everyone wants their invention to change the course of history. Some would settle for it changing a light bulb.

Take Pete and his mate Merv. Enthusiastic advocates of ‘invention for invention’s sake’, they think nothing of spending a whole day in Pete’s Sussex workshop devising interesting ways to produce ‘a squelchy noise’. (No, not like that.)

For this competition to find the country’s best garden shed boffin, they decided to build a contraption that would deliver their slightly long-suffering other halves an automated Sunday breakfast of boiled egg, tea and toast. (Despite being a dead ringer for 007’s gadget man Q, Pete’s MO is clearly closer to that other great British inventor, Wallace. Or is it Gromit?) If their elaborate creation – complete with ‘mechanised wafting arm’ and ‘tea and coffee jiggler’ – failed to deliver, they were in danger of ending up with egg all over their faces. And, indeed, their wives.

On the Isle of Wight, meanwhile, husband and wife inventors Nick and Carolyn were busy building a full-size carousel that would dispense candy for their six-year-old granddaughter. (She’d only asked for the sweets, but things kind of escalated.) A pair of real-life Caractacus Potts, their previous projects included an exact replica of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which they’d driven 15,000 miles to Australia. Think how silly they’ll feel when they remember it can fly.

The final competitor was Stewart, a self-confessed sci-fi geek from Northumberland whose dream was to build a working robot, complete with a ‘colossal metal claw and weaponised foam artillery’. His son described him as ‘the best dad in the world’, and we saw no evidence to suggest otherwise.

In the end, presenters Sara Cox and Piers Taylor awarded the coveted Golden Hammer to Nick and Carolyn’s fairground e-number generator, though all the inventions were small triumphs in their own way. (Pete and Merv’s breakfast automaton even cleared the table afterwards, albeit at the expense of all the crockery).

Brilliant, eccentric and fantastically pointless – everything about this programme made me proud to be British.

TV extra:


The Secret Life of a Bus Garage

This lovely film delivered on its premise by uncovering the incredible backstories of workers at London’s Stockwell bus depot. If you think working as a night cleaner is unglamorous, Mariana, a victim of female genital mutilation who fled religious persecution in Sierra Leone, begs to disagree: ‘Happiness is freedom,’ she grinned, scraping up old bus tickets. Others had fought the secret police in Hungary and survived bloody wars from Somalia to Iraq. ‘To get here, people have had to climb mountains,’ said boss Nigel. Something to think about in the current climate.


Top of the Pops: The Story of 1982

BBC Four’s Top of the Pop reruns are a highlight of the week for people of a certain age (just check out the #TOTP party on Twitter every Friday). This documentary served as an entertaining introduction to a memorable year for TOTP, when Boy George caused a nation of dads to ask ‘Is it a girl or a fella?’, Dexys Midnight Runners famously substituted soul legend Jackie Wilson with darts player Jocky Wilson, and Shalamar’s Jeffrey Daniel did a moonwalk in the studio that made a big impression on a young viewer called Michael Jackson.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 23, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend