On the box: Fake or Fortune? | Made In Britain | Mildred Pierce

WHEN I was a lad and there were only two channels, later increased to a whopping three, I watched absolutely everything. It was a small world but, without the ability to record and re-watch, a democratic one, so the too-thrilling Steve Zodiac, Mr Ed and Hector Heathcote had to be content with equal billing with those superheroes of frankly dull grown-up arenas: Ted Moult, Barry Bucknell and Arthur Negus.

Negus was the expert on Going For A Song, forerunner to Antiques Roadshow, a programme I've never seen despite it clocking up 5,476 editions. Sometimes I miss that narrow portal; it forced you to watch shows which were unsexy but interesting.

And yet in summer, even in the multi-channel age, unsexy-but-interesting can seem like the only alternative – especially when you factor in the intermittent sense of duty of an idiot's-lantern correspondent who'll watch so you don't have to. That's how I came to be weirdly fascinated by Fake Or Fortune?

Probably Fiona Bruce doesn't think of herself as unsexy. Nor her co-host Philip Mould. They're quite tactile and flirty. She says things like "You respond to it sensually, don't you?" He replies: "Yah, that's important."

They were talking about a Monet, or a wannabe Monet, for this is a show which tries to make stars of paintings desperate for the spotlight or the half-light or whatever is the sensitive illumination accorded to bona fide great works. Yes, it's The X Factor of Art.

Well, the participants go on a "journey", Fiona confirming this at the end. But maybe, since I've mentioned a few kids' classics already, we should liken Fame Or Fortune? to the Wacky Races spin-off Stop The Pigeon – like Dastardly and Muttley, Bruce and Mould have ditched their old Antiques Roadshow buddies for a sequel – and forget that no one remembers Stop The Pigeon.

Mould's promotion here wouldn't have happened without David Cameron becoming Prime Minister of Downton Abbey and passing a law discriminating in favour of posho presenters.

And judging by the first instalment, F or F? has quite a lot going for it: exotic locations, long-running disputes, 240-million pixel cameras, the odd near-international incident and hopefully a few more lovely old boys like David Joel who bought his riverscape for 40,000 and has convinced almost all the world's Monet experts of its authenticity.

Almost all but crucially not the secretive dynasty of billionaire art collectors which hides behind big, flip-off gates in Paris and, re the impressionist's oeuvre, has the final say.

David had been down this road before, but not with the great might of the BBC's Snugglesome Sunday Night Department behind him. The verdict this time was a bit more detailed than the "Jamais!" given to some Monet manqus, but it still amounted to a "Non" – despite Mould turning on the Cointreau Man charm and Bruce letting slip "Bugger!" twice.

You know, it's summer when even the current affairs shows turn slightly mad. Halfway through Made In Britain, Evan Davis summoned a string quartet to help him explain how we once led the world in manufacturing but don't any more.

A pleasant interlude but a confusing one.

Perhaps Davis was still disoriented by that cheek-quivering hurl round a racetrack to test drive McLaren's 167,000 general-use sports car.

Or maybe he had some money left over from his trip to Shanghai to inspect China's production might and thought he'd better spend it. If so, he wasn't following his own advice: keep saving, everyone, then more can be invested in plant and machinery and we can rebuild our manufacturing base.

Davis told this story expertly, how we invented mass production – "Our greatest contribution to mankind" – only to have our heads turned by banks and financial services and credit cards. We all know what happened next. Where once we built the world's ships, now we turn out foldaway bicycles. Very "niche".

But Davis stressed we need not be scared of China. He was unimpressed by the first Buddha he encountered – just ten years old – and also the view across Shanghai: "This is the afternoon mist. It takes over from the morning mist each lunchtime."

Don't confuse the volume of China's output with the value, he said. The reason the Chinese have cornered the suits market is not because they're better at it but that they're "not that good at anything else". No one makes pilot-less planes quite like us, though we've definitely got too many worker-less factories.

The original Mildred Pierce was a film noir from the noir-est of writers, James M Cain, featuring Joan Collins at her most death-or-glory melodramatic, but HBO's mini-series remake is a strange, slow, pallid, neutered affair.

Kate Winslet is Mildred – "part of the great American institution that never gets mentioned on the 4th of July: a grass widow" – who's struggling to be an independent woman in 1930s California. The show may pick up – daughter Veda is still a precocious schoolgirl so they've yet to clash – but it's on nights like these that the bill for all those extra channels stings the most.


BBC1 Sunday, 7pm


BBC2 Monday, 9pm


Sky Atlantic Saturday, 9pm

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 26 June, 2011