Disappointingly, this programme isn’t about throwing Gordon Ramsay into prison to see how long he can last among the gangsters and psychopaths. As much as he may swagger and curse, Ramsay doesn’t have a pinch of the bravery of Louis Theroux. Perhaps even more disappointingly, this programme isn’t Gordon’s equivalent of Jamie’s Dream School, where Ramsay attempts to set up his own prison run by celebrities. I would have personally paid the £2 billion annual tax fee to see David Starkey bestowing his famous ethnic wisdom upon a feisty black offender.
Anyway, Gordon Behind Bars is Gordon’s attempt to set up a working kitchen within a prison, run by the prisoners and sold to the public in order to make the prisoners put in some hard graft for the £38,000 the taxpayer pays for their every year of porridge. Some of the teaser clips show members of the public wary of eating prisoner-made food, worrying that any number of bodily fluids may have been surreptitiously mixed into the batter. And, frankly, if you’re not a morally upstanding member of society and you’re not being paid for a hard day’s work then you might well try and sneak a little precum into the pancakes.
It’s not even clear why Gordon’s doing this (other than the obvious reason that the idea was commissioned by some Channel 4 executives who thought it would be funny to see Ramsay trying to bully people who are actually tougher than him). To the camera he tells us it’s because he thinks all the money thrown at Britain’s exploding prison population is a massive waste and that he’s come from a tough background, therefore [scene missing]. To the prisoners, he tells them his brother was a heroin addict and his dad was an alcoholic, therefore [scene missing]. If I was there I’d ask him why he wasn’t doing a programme about teaching addicts to cook – and not in the meth sense.
Gordon wants to have a classic TV ‘final twelve’ to run his kitchen so he spends time working through the volunteers, getting them to cook eggs in order to judge their relative skill. Amazingly, the prisoners aren’t Michelin star chefs; in fact, they’re more Michelin man chefs, if the rubberiness of their scrambled eggs is anything to go by. But Ramsay knows better than to spit their efforts all over the floor as he normally does, lest he finds himself as beaten as the eggs. After the eggs leave him shell-shocked, he splits the crooks into a baking and selling team to create a prototype cupcake business. Their challenge: to create cupcakes delicious enough to sell to the prison wardens. They set up the totally not-terrifying Convict Cupcakes – ‘The Real Taste of Prison’ and, despite getting a comical bollocking for being over-zealous with the glitter, they score a tidy profit.
The real take-home aspect of this programme is the hilariously dramatic attempt to make this venture seem more difficult and the prisoners more trouble than it actually appears. In one scene, Gordon asks an inmate, ‘When did you last work a 60 hour week?’, to which the man replies, ‘Never,’ as the programme cuts to a dramatic commercial break. Sixty hours a week is a lot of hours. Sure, if you’ve got a lot of deadlines and have to work a lot of overtime you might hit sixty hours, but the average person would consider twelve hours work a day to be a bit… much. I’ve never worked sixty hours a week, what would Gordon think of me? In a later scene, after a hard day’s cooking, Gordon tells us there has been a serious incident. Something is missing from the kitchen. What could it be? Shit, has someone snuck a knife or a rolling pin into their room? Will we find someone stabbed in their beds? Oh no, wait, a few of the would-be chefs have smuggled some onions into their cells. What vagabonds! What will these evil onion bandits do next?
In all honesty, so far, these behind-bars bakers seem less trouble than the kids of Jamie’s Dream School or even the kids of Educating Essex, to be honest. They’re just as lazy, mouthy, addicted to onions and likely to punch you as any troubled teenager in the other shows – except this time there is a full roster of prison guards to keep things in check. So maybe the take-home lesson from Gordon Behind Bars is that schools need prison guards. Consider that.