Anneka Rice is back on TV and, frankly, I don’t know how we’ve managed without her. The woman is a ray of sunshine. She’s back in Challenge Anneka (Saturday), which Channel 5 has cannily revived after nearly 30 years. Rice doesn’t seem to have aged and still looks fantastic. Wisely, the executives in charge have decided not to meddle with the format or the details, so we also have lovely Dave the Soundman returning as Rice’s loyal companion.
The format hasn’t dated because it is still present all over TV – DIY: SOS is Challenge Anneka presented by
Nick Knowles. Each week, Rice carries out a community renovation or building project, aided by willing volunteers. This involves Rice and her production team hitting the phones, asking people to donate their services. “Hi there, my name’s Anneka Rice from the Challenge Anneka programme. Are you familiar with it?” she says in one call. Not really, says the young person on the other end. Rice knows how to fix this: “Is there anyone there a bit older?”
The first project in the series was renovation of an animal rescue centre near Biggin Hill in Kent. This meant building new kennels and an outdoor playground, and installing a hydrotherapy pool for Mogwai, a pug with only two functioning legs. We met lots of dogs, including the inseparable odd couple of Lightning (a lurcher) and Bubba (a teeny crossbreed). “Oh my god, Dave, there’s a lot to do, though,” said Rice. “We can do it, Annie. If anyone can do it, we can,” said Dave. And they did, helped by teams willing to work through the night to get the project finished.
I’m not quite sure how these companies could afford to donate their time and materials, but one man just said: “The boss loves dogs, so we’re doing it for free.” The dogs were adorable – no wonder the woman who ran the centre kept bursting into tears at the thought of them. And good news, Lightning and Bubba were reported to be “blissfully happy” in their adoptive home.
Throughout it all, Rice was so enthusiastic, warm and generous that it was hard to imagine anything ever fazing her. She also has a sense of humour. “Well, thank you for letting us rummage in your back area,” she told the man from the electrical shop.
Challenge Anneka wasn’t my favourite Anneka Rice show back in the day: that was Treasure Hunt, a frenetic game show in which she flew around the country looking for clues. Perhaps that could be next on the revival list?