Dame Joanna's flirtatious charm can still turn strong men to jelly

Dame Joanna’s flirtatious charm can still turn strong men to jelly: Christopher Stevens reviews last night’s TV

Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure  


The Great British Sewing Bee 


Joanna Lumley’s mum slept with a martial arts dagger under her pillow, she says, with a knuckle-duster handle, ‘in case an intruder came into the house — she’d give them that’.

Something about being a great-grandmother ‘makes you slightly more capable, let’s put it like that,’ she added, on the second part of her Spice Trail Adventure (ITV1).

Dame Jo is a grandmother herself at 77. ‘Don’t write grannies off,’ she warned, ‘and as for great-grannies . . .’

She was in India, the country where she was born, and learning the martial art Kalari with a stern 80-year-old guru, Meenakshi Amma — herself a great-gran. 

Joanna Lumley (pictured) visits a spice market in India, the country in which she was born, as part of Spice Trail Adventure (ITV)

Respect for the elderly has largely been forgotten in Britain, but perhaps young people would rediscover it if more pensioners were able to perform a flying dropkick with a razor-sharp kukri in each fist.

Joanna has her own lethal weapon, one honed in the fashion world of the 1960s: her flirtatious charm which still turns men to jelly. Seated in a coracle on a lake, she asked the oarsman innocently, ‘Do you have to be strong to paddle this?’

As she mimed a bulging bicep, the poor chap blushed redder than a chilli pepper.

She conquered a bigwig in Vasco da Gama in Goa too, as he proudly showed off his feni distillery. This powerful brew, a blend of fermented cashew fruit juice and coconut nectar, is stored in earthenware pots that have to be sealed with wet clay.

‘This is like Ghost,’ said the chap hopefully, slapping a handful of clay onto the jar’s neck, ‘and I look like Patrick Swayze.’

Joanna forced a sweet smile but, if her host had started singing, ‘Oh, my love, my darling,’ I think she might have scarpered.

She was more at ease on a betel nut plantation, chewing on one of the pods that are reputed to induce feelings of euphoria. At first, she reported nothing more than a numb mouth, but then she started talking like Dolly Parton.

‘Ah am in parra-dyse,’ she declared in a Southern Belle accent. We’ve often seen her slurring her words after a Bollinger binge, as Patsy in Ab Fab, but the betel nut is apparently rather more potent.

She clearly feels at home in India, making this portion of her travelogue seem less exotic than the first part and more like a holiday. The hour ended with her utterly relaxed — lying on a massage table, having spices rubbed into her skin, as though she were a raw steak.

Esme Young (pictured) kneaded and pummelled contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1)

Another fashion queen from a past era, Esme Young, was kneading and pummelling the contestants as The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1) reached its quarter-final. 

One word of disapproval from her is enough to make strong men crumple. ‘You’ve machine-stitched, and I think we asked you to hand-stitch it,’ she remarked to Tony, the last bloke left in the contest.

He looked like a scolded boy — or a burglar confronted by Joanna Lumley’s mum, perhaps.

Two of the challenges were impossibly elegant: a slimline dress inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and Noel Coward’s smoking jacket. The third was a splash of typical Sewing Bee frivolity, with shower curtains being turned into costumes.

But the real cleverness of the show is the way clues are dropped into the edit, to help those of us who know nothing about sewing feel as if we understand what’s going on.

When Tony showed us his cunning system that made it impossible for him to muddle up his fabrics, we guessed exactly what would happen next. Let’s just say Miss Hepburn would not have been impressed.

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