SETTLE in for the big telly event of the year. Nope, I’m not talking about the final series of Succession (although that hotly-anticipated swansong is also happening this month). Nor do I mean Ncuti Gatwa’s debut as Doctor Who (we will need to wait a bit longer for that one).

Rather, I refer to the proverbial phoenix from the ashes; the 2023 equivalent of Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower. Yep, all hail the return of Challenge Anneka to our screens.

It has been almost 28 years since the last full series presented by the titular Anneka Rice aired. There were a couple of one-off specials in the mid-noughties, but this Saturday evening will see the former BBC programme rebooted for a brand new four-episode run on Channel 5.

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The only thing that could possibly top this would be a revival of fellow 1990s staple Gladiators (with the original Lycra-clad, pugil stick-wielding cast). Or being handed the secret recipe for the era’s most epic flavour of Findus Crispy Pancakes (lava-temperature chicken curry for the win).

Why am I looking forward to Challenge Anneka 2.0 so much? In a word: nostalgia. It represents a halcyon age of reality TV before the genre opened a Pandora’s Box containing all the fame-hungry, contrived, plastic, self-serving and Machiavellian horrors of this world.

By contrast, Challenge Anneka championed a generosity of spirit and can-do attitude. It was oddly exhilarating viewing too. The ever-ticking clock – with projects typically turned around in two or three days – brought a gripping sense of urgency.

Rustling up blood donors? A new pool for orphan seals at a rescue sanctuary? Throwing a party for 6,000 disadvantaged children? Painting a lighthouse from top to bottom? Publishing a charity joke book? Not a minute more could be wasted. Onwards!

In one memorable episode, the ancient chalk horse above Weymouth was restored with the help of local Scouts and mountain climbing enthusiasts. Another instalment saw an entire hospital A&E unit dismantled and moved from Dunfermline to a remote town in Romania.

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Then there was the cutting-edge kit. Rice – wearing her ubiquitous jumpsuit – had a sleek turquoise-and-yellow articulated lorry at her disposal, alongside a matching beach buggy (the latter was a zippy steed, providing many a hilarious You’ve Been Framed-esque blooper).

Rice also toted a boulder-sized mobile phone, used to cajole folk into donating things for her latest cause. No job was too daunting. Everyone got their sleeves rolled up and stuck in. Including Rice’s sidekick Dave “The Soundman” Chapman, who is also back for the 2023 run.

What has the show’s presenter been up to in the decades since Challenge Anneka last aired? You best ask her agent “Clemmie Hart”. Which is my clunky way of teeing up one of my all-time favourite showbiz yarns. You see, “Clemmie” doesn’t actually exist.

The story goes that in 2004 Rice declined the opportunity to co-host a new cookery show, alongside former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, to be called – groan – “Curry and Rice”. As a consequence, she parted ways with her then-agent.

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And hence, out of necessity, Rice invented an alter-ego “Clemmie Hart” to liaise with celebrity bookers about job offers (and say no to the ones she didn’t want to do).

Rice clearly did a star turn because “Clem” – as the faux agent was affectionately known within industry circles – became so popular that she was regularly invited to social events and even asked to join a netball team. Which is arguably fitting testament to Rice’s own relatable charm.

When there is so much to be gloomy about in the news bulletins, Challenge Anneka is the kind of wholesome goodness we need. It is akin to raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

As the great philosopher Taylor Swift once said, it is exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero. Instead, let’s salve our weary souls with a little TV joy.