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In at the Deep End (1982-87)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of In at the Deep End (1982-87)
BBC1, tx. 7/9/1982-10/6/1987
18 x 50 minutes in 3 series, colour
Series ProducersAdam Chapman
 Edward Mirzoeff
 Nick Handel

Presenters: Chris Serle, Paul Heiney

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Two presenters are given intensive training to learn a new profession, then have their skills appraised by the experts.

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Beating the 'reality TV' boom by over a decade, In at the Deep End challenged its presenters Chris Serle and Paul Heiney to master an impressive variety of professions, with admirable and occasionally embarrassing results. In each programme Serle or Heiney would receive training and advice from experts before undertaking a challenge at professional level. The series ranged from serious to showbiz, with jobs including hairdresser, auctioneer, snooker player, film actor, butler and romantic novelist. As graduates from consumer programme That's Life (BBC, 1973-94), Heiney and Serle were well placed to guide viewers through some of stranger aspects of the jobs, and although part of the fun lay in watching them attempting ridiculous tasks, they always gamely accepted criticism and took their roles seriously.

Typically the presenters spent between three and six months learning a job. The training period was represented in a series of interviews and trials; during the final challenge voiceover 'flashbacks' often repeated tips given in training to reinforce the tension of remembering under pressure. Celebrity tutors were employed for performance challenges, with Kenneth Williams advising Heiney on his debut as a female impersonator and Ken Russell critiquing his efforts at making a pop video (3 out of 10). The master chef edition saw Heiney mentored by Michel Roux and Keith Floyd before entering a competition for Star Chefs of the 80s.

But editions featuring less glamorous jobs were often more rewarding and informative. Serle's training for the Fastnet Race saw him gain a Coastal Skipper Certificate of Competence before leading a crew, while his appearance at the Stewards' Cup as a bookmaker followed the approval of the Bookmakers Protection Association. By insisting that the presenters attained a quite advanced level of competence in their challenges, In at the Deep End was able to offer genuine insights into different professional worlds from an outsider's perspective.

Subsequently, Jobs for the Girls (BBC, 1995) with Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke and Jobs for the Boys (BBC, 1997) with Gareth Hale and Norman Pace took a lighter approach, but transformative reality series Faking It (Channel 4 2000-05) went a stage further, taking ordinary people and immersing them completely in their assigned profession. The 2000s proliferation of programmes featuring celebrity tutorials, such as Hell's Kitchen (ITV, 2004-), Dancing on Ice (ITV, 2006-) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, 2004-), can also be traced back to In at the Deep End.

Lisa Kerrigan

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Video Clips
1. Title sequence (0:59)
2. Man overboard (1:20)
3. Coastal skipper certificate (1:23)
4. The Fastnet (2:33)
Complete episode: Fastnet Race Skipper (49:25)
Faking It (2000-05)
Social Experiment TV