Bare Necessities



Ed Hall


Hugh McManners


Pudding Productions for BBC 2, 23 December 1999 to 15 February 2001 (13 episodes, 2 series plus pilot)


The BBC, being ever so sly and cunning, seem to have caught on to the desert island survival fever that's been gripping the nation (the nation in question being the USA) thanks to Survivor. Get 16 people on an island, let them vote each other off until only one remains who wins a staggering $1 million.

Bare Necessities is just like Survivor except it's not set on a desert island, they don't vote each other off and they don't win $1 million. What they do have is two teams of different professions flown to an exotic and very slightly scary destination and the grand prize being a night in a five star hotel. And, as it turns out, a lot of entertainment along the way.

Comparisons to the seminal Now Get Out of That are fairly justified, but here there's less emphasis on black humour and more on survival. This recipe could have been very dull, but thankfully wry and sarcastic commentary is on hand thanks to your host Ed "Ed" Hall, who really comes into his own playing a kind of Bernard Falk-type role, except that he really is in the location rather than swanning around in the VT edit suite.

Something of a man-mountain himself, Ed Hall

Cunningly, the teams are paired up in such a way that one team is of an A-type, go-getting nature and the other is a bunch of comparatively fluffy bunny types (think estate agents against nurses). The dynamics are therefore set up very nicely - the uber-professionals want to show that they're the bees knees, the fluffy bunnies want to show that they can get one over the steely types. And we, the viewers, want to cheer the "good guys" or the "baddies", depending on our Freudian personalities and what sort of day we've had at work.

It's good to know people still name kids things like Nathan and Nigel

The name of the game is survival, pure and simple. In order to survive, the teams are provided with ten Bare Necessities (do you see what they did there?) Six of these are the same for each programme and appear in the title sequence. Four others are chosen to help the teams adapt to their particular terrain, which is different each week.

Knife, cooking pot, spade, twine, water and lantern - as recommended by the Boys Brigade annual 1957

The two teams of three people try and rough it for a full five days and four nights (five for the eventual losers - see later) with only these ten objects for comfort plus whatever they can find in the local flotsam and/or jetsam.

The expert opinion comes in the form of Hugh "Manners" McManners who, very much in the style of the snooker commentator "Whispering" Ted Lowe, speaks very purposefully giving advice and setting the teams their challenges. He also scores them by candidly and not-so-candidly listening in to the teams' progress through the course.

Hugh and Ed listen in to the team's conversations

The programme follows this basic story-board kind of pattern. The most urgent task is to set up their shelter for the first evening's sleep using wood from the surroundings. The second is to get a fire going, because apparently this is really important although why anyone needs a fire in Crete in Summer is beyond us.

Butlins this is not. Or is it?

The first evening's meal is usually provided for free, and normally consists of (ho! ho!) something really disgusting, such as half a flank of goat or a stuffed badger's head.

(left) Lord of the Flies, anyone? (right) So that's what happened to Flivver...

As seems de rigeur these days, the team are provided with a camcorder so that they can privately record their thoughts on how things are going during the privacy of the evening.

"I am so scared" - a contestant re-enacts the Blair Witch Project

Over the course of the next few days, the teams will keep adapting their shelters - maybe adding an improvised toilet, a changing room or a pithy sign saying something like "New Croydon" - as well as participating in a number of other tasks.

The first of these is usually some kind of problem solving task, such as getting over this fence without actually touching it, or collecting some eggs without using your hands.

Mind those "laser beams", love

The practical task normally involves one of the local wildlife, who get subjected to being sheared, milked or otherwise mutilated by the teams in order to add to their depleted food stocks. This is because, apart from the food provided on the first and fourth evenings, the team have to catch whatever sustenance they can (usually fish, although one contestant managed to find a partially-used pot of chocolate!)

One of Dolly's relatives grins and bears it

Action tasks, usually diving or climbing, are added with the incentive of extra food or equipment to help them for the days to come.

Rock climbing with pigs. You never know - it could take off

Every morning the teams are marked out of 8 by Mr McManners - 4 for achievement (how they did in yesterday's tasks, how their camp is getting along) and another four for teamwork. These marks are added up each day to give a running total. On a few highly amusing situations, Hugh takes marks off if bad things happen such as finding luxury items the teams have sneaked in with them, hacking themselves to pieces with their knife or fainting because the team hasn't found enough food ("It's a self-inflicted injury," Hugh always reminds us.)

The team with the most points get an advantage in the obvious obstacle course on the last day. This obstacle course will test the survival skills of our two teams to the very limit. Oh hang on, that's The Krypton Factor. Instead, the Bare Necessities obstacle course goes a bit It's a Knockout.

"So then the giant chefs take the paddles and row over to the wobbly bridge... and here come the Belgians!"

The winning side gets a certain number of seconds head start for each point they are in the lead. The aim of the final race is to detonate an explosion first and thus be declared the winners. The exact course is different each time, but it can vary from teams walking on planks to burst balloons to going under some tripwires to chucking stones onto targets to looking for pressure pads in rocks to padding around in coracles.

An interesting little fillip is that the team which wins is whisked off back to civilisation to spend the night in a hotel whilst the losers camp out for another night.

Winners, exiting stage left

Our only real criticism is that the end game doesn't really gel with the rest of the show. It would also be nice if Hugh justified his scores a little more, because sometimes the marking seems slightly arbitrary, but that's mainly because he's heard and seen more than we have.

The points system doesn't really seem to work very well, because by the end of the week both teams are usually pretty level pegging and I'm afraid we can't really get exciting about one-point advantages changing hands after each day. And why's the marking out of 8 anyway?

It matters not (well, not much) because overall this is a very entertaining show that manages to justify its full hour. You don't really notice the time passing, and the clever balance of entertainment, personal struggle and the odd bit of survival information (should you ever be unfortunate enough to experience World War III) is well thought through.

Series two has solved pretty much all the gremlins. The scoring is now out of ten and much better signposted (e.g. 5 points for that day's task, 2 points for keeping the fire going, 3 points for building the camp). The end games are now a lot more multi-layered and fulfilling, so you feel that the winners really have done something to deserve their success. And if anything, the locations are getting even more grim. Oh, how we laugh.

The winning team enjoying a splash of Piper Heidseich


Based on a format by Jenny Teasdale, Philip Natusch and Paul Musselle

Web links

Pudding Productions


The somewhat arbitrary scoreboard.


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