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The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas review – more moving than any other festive cookery show

This warm, touching festive special reunites the duo on TV for the first time since Dave Myers’s cancer treatment. It’s a genuine, unaffected tribute to food, loved ones and being alive

To health and happiness … Si King (left) and Dave Myers in The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas.

Cookery shows are the most fake programmes on TV, and Christmas cookery programmes are usually even worse: presenters put on jazzy jumpers to sit around a table with “friends” they don’t know in a house that isn’t theirs, eating food they didn’t cook and reciting platitudes they didn’t write about what Christmas means to them, in scenes that were filmed in August. Humbug!

The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas is not one of those shows. Because of the presenters’ personal circumstances, and because the Hairy Bikers have always seemed a lot more real than their TV-chef rivals, their festive special really is what other Christmas culinary programmes only pretend to be: a warming, moving celebration of friends, family and food, giving thanks for another year survived.

Dave Myers and Si King have known each other more than 30 years and have co-presented food/travelogue shows for nearly 20. Their dynamic represents a sort of friendship that is commonplace in the real world but unusual on television: it’s not quite equal. Despite being nine years Myers’ junior, King is the wise big brother in their sibling-ish relationship. Myers is plainly a good cook with a wide knowledge of food, but there’s always a sense that he is glancing upwards for King’s approval and protection. That makes Myers refreshingly different from almost every other TV chef. They tend to present themselves as omniscient and infallible, but he never has.

In May 2022, Myers announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer. This is the first Hairy Bikers show since then, and its opening minutes document Myers’ illness and treatment. He says he hasn’t revealed what form of cancer he has in order to maintain some privacy, but we can see that it is or was serious enough to threaten his life and rob him of his identity: the peak of his chemotherapy took away his hair and his balance, meaning the Hairy Biker was temporarily neither hairy nor a biker. Even now, he has the papery skin and widened eyes that any relative of a long-term cancer patient will recognise with a pang of trauma.

Seeing Myers recall his fight for life is upsetting, but the really affecting interview is with King, whose face still bears the helpless terror of a man who thought his best mate was going to die. He was no longer able to look after him. “I’ve found it difficult to find my role,” he says, gruffly understating it.

King (left) and Myers prepare a Christmas dish.

After that rather devastating preamble, the regular business of hunting for the best seasonal ingredients to form a grand feast begins at Birmingham Symphony Hall, where the in-house chef demonstrates how to make Brummie bacon cakes. It’s standard food-show fare, but everything feels precious and well earned. Outside, an all-female local choir “surprises” Myers and King with a performance of carols – this is TV, so it almost certainly isn’t a surprise, but Myers, a man who thought he might never hear another Christmas carol, chokes up when he tries to thank the singers.

With Myers back on his motorcycle thanks to physiotherapy, the two pals carry on in their normal fashion, touring the Midlands, visiting the region’s best food producers and chefs. An upmarket Indian restaurant in Birmingham provides spiced pork belly, while a premium butcher is the source of a huge cut of sirloin on the bone. Myers goes to pick that out by himself, worrying whether “Kingy” will approve his selection.

In their kitchen, the Bikers roast the beef and cream the horseradish that goes with it, while also stir-frying a starter of pork pancit noodles, fresh with lime, sriracha and cabbage sliced “finer than a hummingbird’s toenail clippings” – a dish based on the one made for Myers by a Filipino nurse, back when his chemo-ravaged mouth had stopped tasting of dry metal and he was craving strong, zesty flavours.

Once a tour of a family-run walnut farm has produced a lot of nut puns and the key ingredient of a stilton, pear and walnut tart, the pair share a hug, and indulge their adorable habit of kissing each other sloppily on the cheek, because the Christmas menu is complete and the table can be set. The food experts who have appeared in the show are present, but so are the people Myers says have “kept him alive”: the Filipino nurse is here, as is the physiotherapist who re-taught Myers how not to fall off his beloved bike.

Health and happiness are sincerely toasted. Then Myers, at the head of the table with King at his shoulder, rises, a little uncertainly, to speak. “Shall we do it again next year? I hope so.”

The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas was on BBC Two and is available on iPlayer.

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