Mother Knows Best


Ulrika Jonsson


Princess Productions for ITV, 14 August 1999


This one-shot pilot for ITV, airing at 6.55pm on a midsummer Saturday evening, is believed to be one of the worst shows ever made.

In a pink and blue set with twinkly bits, Ulrika Jonsson selects unfortunates from the audience to meet their mothers. These parents are, of course, monstrous, conforming to every stereotype ever: domineering, embarrassing, tasteless, vulgar, over-protective, jealous and think they know best. There's the boring mother who knows she isn't boring, the conventional one who wanted her daughter to have a white wedding, the one whose shambolic son needed to sort his life out.

Perhaps the best way to describe the horrific nature of this programme is to detail one of the show's four rounds. Think, if you will, of the Grab the Ads bit of Saturday Night Takeaway: a selection of photographs of mothers flashes up on the big screen. Eventually, the picture settles, and the camera heads towards the person whose mother is being displayed. They make their way to the stage, a la The Price is Right, and meet their mother. Not for the first time, of course, these are people who know each other very well, in some cases for life.

In our example round, Lorraine is the mother. She loves everything to be in pink, and we see her living room, in which - shock of shocks - everything is pink. Then we meet her son, John, who has decorated his house in yellow and blue, with one of those wooden floors that were all the rage in the late 1990s. Here comes the Noel's House Party-style twist: while John's been in London, the production team has been round to his house, and executed a Changing Rooms-style makeover. Everything in John's house is now pink. will he concede that mother knows best, or will he have it put back how it was? On such difficult emotional quandries did the show revolve.

Critics panned this show as though it was a stream laden with all the gold in the world. Michele Hanson said in the Guardian, "The whole premise of the show was a stereotype of entrenched rubbish, verging on the sexist. It showed a deep fear of women and the potential that they might wish to wield some power... By showing the children just sitting there, meekly lapping up the laughter of the viewing millions, it's implied that behind every dysfunctional adult is a ghastly mother." In The Sun, Garry Bushell said the show wasn't worth a series, and Caitlin Moran pointed out to readers of The Times, "If mothers did know best, Mrs Jonsson would have been on the phone from Malmo telling her pride and joy not to go near this collision of You've Been Framed and the mother/daughter makeover segment on This Morning" before describing the show as "the equal of any vehicle featuring Brian Conley in the Souls In Torment-O-meter." She then turned over to Xena and Gabrielle in the Miss Known World Beauty Pageant.

Being charitable, and with the benefit of a decade's hindsight, it is possible that Mother Knows Best might have worked as heavily ironic post-pub entertainment. Instead, restricted by the (notionally) family-friendly atmosphere of early Saturday evenings, the show sank faster than a lead block in a tub of fresh air, and everybody took a concerted decision to forget the programme had ever existed. Indeed, it took this site almost nine years to remember missing the show: a contributor called ITV on the night of the broadcast to ask what this show was all about, only to be told by the sympathetic duty office, "I know, lots of people have phoned in."


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