Secret Millions – review

Channel 4 has teamed up with The National Lottery to tell us about its good deeds. But do we need the star presenters?

The National Lottery has been giving money to deserving charities for years now, and regardless of your thoughts on the evils of gambling, or the futility of spending a couple of pounds a week on a something you have incredibly low odds of winning, you can’t help but be impressed with the work they do and the people that benefit from the millions they allocate. Of course you may not be totally aware of everything they do as it’s not something that has warranted its own TV show in the past.

Channel 4 has decided to put this right by making Secret Millions, a series of programmes with some of their own stars to show us what is being done. Last week, we had George Clarke and a bunch of troubled London teenagers who were put to work restoring a derelict house so it could be used by someone in need (in this case a single mum of two living in one room). This week Jimmy Doherty took three disabled teens, along with their families, to his farm for a week of rehabilitation and respite. The hope was that the National Lottery would grant the charity two million pounds to set up a dedicated farm for respite care.

The kids got to work feeding pigs, milking cows and planting flowers, while their parents were allowed some time to themselves. The outcome was that if the parents step back a little more, their kids would become more confident and be able to do a lot more for themselves than their parents give them credit for. As the kids had already been attending other respite centres, it seems strange that this had not been discovered before, but maybe that’s being just a little bit too flippant. The point of the programme was to prove to the Lottery bigwigs that the charities deserved the money and people would really benefit from the investment.

It seems churlish to criticize a programme with such admirable intentions but there was a certain lack of context and a preponderance of scenes designed to tug at the heart strings. which made a lot of it seem very contrived. At one point, a lottery employee asked Jimmy about what health and safety procedures were in place to deal with disabled children on a farm, which Jimmy batted away by saying that the fact there was a little danger made the kids more aware of what’s around them and added to the experience. Now I’m no health and safety expert, but surely letting kids into barns with cows, pigs, milking machines and tractors does warrant some form of control. This was never followed up by the documentary so we don’t know if their concerns were ever addressed.

We were also never told how each C4 star became involved with each charity. Were they already personally involved with each organisation, or was it a case of C4 executives sitting around a boardroom picking a charity out of one hat and a star out of another? At the end of the programme, we don’t know if the star has any further dealings with the charity or if for them it’s just another TV job and now they move onto the next. What the programmes need is a lot more context so we can see just how involved the star is. It would also be interesting to see if, at the end of any of the programmes, the National Lottery refuses the money. In the first two shows they have tried to create tension as a phone call is made at the end of the show to see if the money will be forthcoming, but is that ever really in doubt?

What Channel 4 should have the courage to do is a programme about the charitable work the National Lottery does that doesn’t have to involve a TV star welling up for the cameras. TV audiences are sophisticated enough these days to watch a documentary like this without a TV star to guide them along the emotional journey, and the National Lottery deserves a programme that showcases its charitable work without being turned into a novelty version of The Secret Millionaire.

Secret Millions is on Sundays at 8PM on Channel 4. Check out the Channel 4 official site, or watch episodes on 4OD.

Duncan Stripp

Updated: Apr 04, 2013

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