Dinner with Portillo

Before I even start… the image above should in no way suggest that Dinner with Portillo (BBC Four) is a forum which allows the former Tory MP the chance to eat children. It’s an image from another show. Get over it.

So, what is Dinner with Portillo?

Well, the official line is this – Michael Portillo gets a bunch of people to yap about some hotly debated topic or other around a dinner table. That’s it.

It sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Well, weirdly, it’s rather engrossing and pleasing television. Last night, Portillo was munching cud over the topic of Why Should We Care About Scottish Independence? with Rod Liddle, some bloke called Michael Fry, former First Minister of Scotland Henry McLeish, Hardeep Singh Kohli, the exotically named Vernon Bogdanor, some chap called Adam Smith, some other bloke called Tom Clougherty and Timothy Garton Ash who I have also never heard of.

So let’s get this right – mostly people you’ve never heard of having a nice feed at the expense of us, the license-fee payer, yapping on about something we couldn’t care less about?

Yes. And I’m as shocked as anyone that this show was such a joy to watch. Of course, it had no explosions or fistfights in a dockyard… but what it did have was a complete lack of format… and format is the single biggest problem in television today.

Essentially, left to their own devices around a dinner table, the debate is stretched out and hammered over ’til its spine nearly breaks with everyone getting an equal share of the pie.

It’s wonderful. I don’t even remember a theme tune. It was like peering through a window and eavesdropping on some strangers (which is always fun, but sadly, can make you feel like a tramp tapping at the window for some scraps).

To be perfectly honest, I can’t quite believe I enjoyed this clearly contrived programme, but there was something so easy to digest about it that it left me rapt and not getting at all angry like I do when I watch other political debate shows.

A Tory! In a show! That I like! I hate Tories! Will wonders never cease?

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1