Monday, July 31

Freeze, suckers

Richey Nash gets heated while watching a programme about freezing human corpses

I watched Death In The Deep Freeze (Channel 5, 9pm) – the last in the Stranger Than Fiction series – with a little angst. You see, I don’t believe real life is stranger than fiction. Real life is only stranger than fiction if you’ve got no imagination. And that means any show dubbed ‘stranger than fiction’ is usually a synonym for ‘boring’.

But this documentary wasn’t boring: it was infuriating or, at least, the subject matter was. It was about cryonics, the process of freezing a dead human body to resurrect it at a later date. Okay, my main problem with cryonics is this: if you’re the sort of idiot who wants to be frozen in the vain hope you’ll be brought back to life later, you’re the sort of idiot who doesn’t deserve to be brought back to life later.

Still, we might not have to worry about being overrun by a plague of deluded Americans in the year 2087 because the narrator tells us: “Current revival strategies are believed to be no more than a shot in the dark.” Brilliant.

The narrator also says the obstacles in the way of developing a system of reanimating frozen bodies could be ‘insurmountable’. Pretty conclusive. But that doesn’t bother an American millionaire called Terry who sounds like a cryonics salesman: “Wouldn’t you pay for a glimpse of the future for the cost of a monthly electricity bill?”

Sorry Terry but for me it’s a big fat ‘No’. I’m not going to hand over my cash to conmen based on the hypothetical possibility I might see the future. I'm not at all persuaded by the science that I would see the future and, chances are, even if I did see the future I’d be disappointed.

And there’s another thing, Terry: if there's a power cut and I start to thaw, I don’t want my decaying corpse tossed in a bin bag like the bit of frozen chicken you lose when your fridge freezer busts. I’d rather be buried. Or cremated. Or chucked off the back of a cross-Channel ferry into an oil slick and washed up onto a beach in Portsmouth where the stones have been replaced by globules of Noel Edmonds’ spunk. That's just my preference.

But it’s not just that I don’t trust the idea of cryonics. It’s the fact the documentary tells us most of the staff the ‘leaders of cryonic technology’ Alcor – based in Arizona – have 'little or no medical experience'. Judging by the dead look behind their eyes they can barely muster the energy to work their own brains and bodies, let alone reanimate somebody else’s. And even if they had the training, scientists can barely bring back a healthy animal kidney, let alone a whole human being that's already declared legally dead.

The programme makers didn't swallow the propaganda, though, and left viewers in little doubt that they considered the process exploitative. The programme made it clear its believed that cryonics exploits the deluded fools who pay money for a one in a billion chance that they can come back to life in the future (possibly as an Iceman - pictured). And it also argued that cryonics exploits their grieving relatives, because it makes the grieving relatives feel better that their loved one could come back to life, without giving any solid scientific evidence.

Still, nobody mentioned the hidden punchline in this whole process: even if the loved one is brought back to life, by the time technology gives us that power - decades into the future - the grieving relatives will be dead anyway. Good punchline, innit?

So I started watching the programme with angst, and ended with anger. Well, it’s more energy than a Channel 5 documentary can usually stir up. Now I need to cool down. Just not too much.

Football's over but the game goes on

Nick Yates watches a tepid weekend of lousy sport

It’s revealing how a sport’s pundits reflect its culture. This was a weekend of the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly in the world of sport. And it was one polarised between the high climes of a racing circuit in Hockenheim and a small stadium in the north of England half-full of pie eaters.

ITV1 had dedicated its schedule on the second day of the weekend to a spot of Sunday driving. F1 (Sunday, ITV1, 12:00) and British Touring Cars (Sunday, ITV1, 3:00) back-to-back made this a good channel for the petrol heads. The commentary consisted of the two leads spouting techno-babble about the cars’ performance. F1 is mired in rules so mind-boggling that the show’s producers need to interrupt the action every 10 minutes for a feature explaining what the hell is going on. Car devotees are a very insular community, and this show does everything it can to enforce the barriers that keep its insiders in and its outsiders out.

F1 is a sport so boring they can have full length ads during the event. Even cricket doesn’t manage this. Whoever’s in charge of adverts at ITV1 had made a curious decision to fill these breaks largely with road safety adverts. During one brief spell - about 30 laps into what seemed an interminable 30,000 lap race - there were three clips urging motorists to slow down and exercise caution on the roads. These punctuated coverage of a sport where cars hurtle round a track at nearly 200mph and commentators enthuse over them spinning off the tracks in flames. Mixed messages?

The rugby league coverage (Sunday, Sunday Grandstand, 2:50) later in the day, in the spirit of its roots in mining towns off the M62, was course and brutal. It does exactly what it says in the Ronseal ad. “Have you got any opinions for us?” the commentator asked in a link to the pitch side analyst.

“Yes, a few, as you might imagine,” came the reply. It’s no surprise that the pitch side analyst has some opinions. It’s kind of his job. It’s matter-of-fact, state-the-bleeding-obvious punditry like this throughout.

Where rugby league coverage is truly painful is in its embarrassing attempts to engage with sport TV’s new-fangled gimmicks. The pundits’ analysis by drawing, as if by magic, on a still from the match to illustrate key points in the play always ends up looking like scribbling on an etch-a-sketch by an inartistic toddler. The live “changing room cam” is surely, in fact, pre-recorded. It shows sanitised scenes of the muscle-bound ugs posing with their shirts off. Funnily enough, you never see any complete nudity or hear any swearing. These must be the most refined sports dressing rooms in the world.

Saturday, July 29

The Stupids Are Taking Over

Televisionreview’s youngest star, Jamie Stern-Weiner, regrets turning on last week’s television at all

I remember a time when it was possible to turn on the TV and actually watch an intelligent, stimulating programme. A programme that provoked thoughts instead of melting them dead. You know, back when Channel 4 remembered its mission statement, and when the BBC wasn’t just a big fat ratings whore, and didn’t always resort to lowest common denominator TV to try justify its existence.

Well, last week I was feeling nostalgic and, my eyes all dreamy, made the mistake of turning on the box. First up was Film Four, the movie service from Channel 4 that on Sunday became free (I guess it wasn’t doing very well). They had only been running for four nights, and so I figured they would still be pulling out all the stops to impress curious viewers. I was anticipating a classy, classic movie, perhaps a Kubrick or a Lynch. What I got was Zoolander, (Tuesday, Film 4, 9pm) which turned out to be exactly the kind of film you’d expect a movie directed by and starring Ben Stiller to be: mind-numbingly stupid. It’s basically 89 minutes of Ben Stiller dressing up in ridiculous clothes and saying stupid things in a stupid voice. Apparently, it’s a "satire of the fashion industry" – Chris Morris can rest at ease.

Disgusted, I flicked over to Film Four’s stunted sister (or ugly cousin), Channel 4. In the few seconds of blackness while the Freeview box was switching channels, I found religion. I closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed that Hollyoaks would not be on, or Big Brother, or that episode of Friends where Ross says the wrong name. I opened my eyes to be confronted with, "Most of the housemates are in the garden", and lost it again. Yes, Big Brother (Channel 4, E4, all the bloody time) is still going on – I had moved from an actor pretending to be stupid to a group of people who are the real deal. You’ve got to feel sorry for the producers – most of the big characters have gone and everyone’s getting bored. They’ve tried desperately to liven it up, but it just ain’t working – currently, they have converted the secret house-next-door into a prison, and half the housemates are dressed up as convicts and confined in there. The other half have become Prison Guards, dressed in pink and black uniforms (pictured).

Secretly, the prisoners have been shown another hidden room, filled with luxury, chocolate and booze. You can see how it might have sounded good on paper, but it’s all so yawn. What would be interesting is if it turned into a repeat of the famous Stanford Prisoner Experiment, (really pictured) when the designated prisoner guards became sadistic and authoritarian, and the prisoners became depressed and stressed out. Michael is already expressing his love of the uniform, declaring that he feels "powerful" and that he will teach the "scum" next door a lesson, "wiping the smile of Spiral’s face" for good. A slight twitch in his eye gave the impression he was only half joking. Sadly, a gory free-for-all remains unlikely in the remainder of this year’s Big Boredom.

My brain was starting to fall asleep, so I hurriedly turned over to Newsnight (BBC2, Monday-Friday, 10.30pm) . At least there I could enjoy some intellectually engaging material, right? Well, no actually. Instead what I got were more stupids, this time in suits. When I joined the fray, some Israeli official - Gideon Meir - was in the middle of saying that Israel does not want to harm civilians, and has fully cooperated with humanitarian agencies in delivering aid to Lebanese civilians. I leaned forward, anticipating the presenter’s savage reply. Surely, I reasoned, she would laugh at this ridiculous statement, and point out the fact that Israel refused to allow any aid to reach civilians for eight days, or quote some of the many statements from aid agencies deploring Israeli non-cooperation. Perhaps she might mention the fact that only that day, Israeli jets bombed a UN office 29 times, despite repeated pleas to stop. "Right", she said, and moved on.

By this point, my brain had started dripping out my ear-holes, forming a soft gloop on the floor. ‘The stupids are taking over the world’, I thought to myself, before slipping into a coma. With my last conscious action, I did the only sensible thing, and turned the bloody thing off.

Thursday, July 27

Food, glorious food

Mark Lewis watches Channel 4 serve up more food than an elephant's banquet

Thursday night on Channel 4 was food night. Which seems to be something of a theme, because Wednesday was also food night.

Never mind though, because Return to the River Cottage (Channel 4, 8pm) spurns any kind of food programme convention. Any element of trying to inspire viewers is discarded like stray bones from a locally caught pollock fillet, cooked with spring onions just picked from the garden and purple broccoli reaped as the camera man is setting up the shot.

Preposterous scarecrow, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (pictured) gently admonishes us for our failure to live like a country vagrant. Wankingstaw, who gets paid to live like a country vagrant, spends half an hour doing all manner of stupid things, but mostly teaching us to feel superior to country folk.

First up, Hugh Findus-Crispypancakes tries to deal with a rodent problem by calling in vegan mouse terminators, who try to persuade them to leave the cottage through the power of meditation. He repays them with a meal consisting mostly of hazelnuts, mud covered spinach, and slugs, which seemed like a fair deal.

Later Frisky-Wittgenstein would drive evil spirits away with apple pickers in the west country and make fresh fruit ice lollies to sell to bothered passers by in their cars like a windscreen washing gypsy, despite having a multi-million pound book deal and his own television programme.

The similarity with Jamie’s Great Italian Escape (Channel 4, 8.30pm) is uncanny. Last night Jamie Oliver stood on the Sicilian roadside selling sausage picante to hungry passers by. Only, despite out-countrysiding Fuckly-Wankerstick, Jamie cooked something we could aspire to, and didn’t make us want to hate him.

Incredibly, he also managed his mission to show those monks a thing or two about religion, re-grew what used to be the best herb garden in Italy and made some of the most sex starved men in the whole of Europe have some fun at last.

Farty-Workstop can barely persuade us to keep watching. Though he might, by feeding them his hazelnut and spinach surprise just be able to persuade people with Prader-Willi Syndrome not to eat. And that, as we discovered in Only Human: Can’t Stop Eating (Channel 4, 9.30pm) is a very difficult task indeed.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Deven Pamben watches an evening of BBC documentaries which leave him bemused, bored, sad and angry

With a faulty freeview box I was left to choose between the five terrestrial channels for last night's viewing. Actually three. What with Channel five showing a friendly football match, and ITV just being plain rubbish, I settled into an evening in front of BBC1.

This week is Big Bear Week (BBC1, 7pm).

The programme involves three groups following brown, polar and black bears.

Amid the beautiful shots of Canada and Alaska we get see the day-to-day lives of the bears. We slightly confusingly cut between three different stories every few minutes and to be honest not a great deal was going on.

It got to the point where cameraman Jeff Turner, who was following the black bears gave us his Keith Floyd impersonation during which we discovered clover (the flower) is really good in salads; Jeff is a vegetarian; and if anyone has the fortune to be in Whistler, in Canada, there is a really great restaurant called Chic Pea, who do some of the best vege burgers in the world.

Posh bird Saba Douglas-Hamilton seems the unluckiest as she mostly can’t find any polar bears at all (the buggers are probably in plain sight in the snow in front of the camera, only covering their tell-tale black noses with their paws). When she finally found some they just chilled out on the rocks, looking over the ocean, doing nothing.

My kinda life.

This is no David Attenborough masterpiece but I applaud the BBC for programmes like this – attempting to be informative, educational and entertaining – even though the only real thing I learnt was about clover being good in salads.

Next up was Are You Being Served? (BBC1,7.30pm). This is where the BBC lets itself down. This was just irritating. Some guy called Arkin went to a variety of restaurants seeing what kind of service he received. I’m still undecided whether I want him to get food poisoning.
One restaurant, The Wok and Grill was criticised for not allowing kids who are more than 1.2m tall to have a half price menu. I like this philosophy – us short people never get any benefits. This gives shorter kids an opportunity to laugh at the expense of taller children in this world – the same tall kids who probably laugh at short people for not being allowed on all those rides at theme parks.

Anyway, Arkin later gives some girls some advice on customer service. Admittedly the service they offered was atrocious but the poor girls live in Rhyll and work at a Hungry Horse. No offence but if I was in their position I wouldn’t give a shit either.

Back to the wild animals, and The Boys who killed Stephen Lawrence (BBC1, 9pm).

Once again the BBC has to be praised for this powerful documentary. Every so often we see investigational journalism highlighting corruption and prejudice.

The documentary found evidence that questioned the alibis of the five suspected of Stephen’s death as well as identifying alleged police corruption.

For me, allegations of police corruption and incompetence come as no surprise – in the years since the original botched police investigation, we’ve come to expect it. And even if the new allegations of corrupt police in cahoots with the gangster families of the accused five prove untrue, the programme reminded us about the how the police, CPS and their own family lawyers failed the Lawrences.

Having to re-watch the injustice of the initial court case, Stephen’s mother Doreen uses he words ‘it pains me’.

The whole sickening events surrounding Stephen’s death should continue to pain us all. The sad thing is that programmes like this no longer really even shock.

Tuesday, July 25

Nude for thought

More flattering clothes? Or a punishment beasting from Provo Sergeant Weston? Richey Nash picks up tips about how to look less bad naked.

Want to look better naked? You could always do what my girlfriend does when she’s feeling insecure: stand next to a naked me. It works, but might not be practical for everyone. So what else can you do to look better naked?

Why not go on a TV show? Well, there are many reasons not to. Usually TV tries to make people look better in three easy stages: (1) knock ‘em out, (2) carve a gash in their love handles and (3) tell Henry The Hoover to get sucking. Either that or tell them to put down the cake and get running.

But How To Look Good Naked (C4, 8.30pm) was different: it tried to make people feel better about what they’ve got, not change it. Sound weird, doesn’t it? Well, let me explain: 28-year-old Zoe (size 12) thought she looked like a whale, probably because she’s seen too many pics of Keira Knightley.

“I’m horrid,” she said at the start, before crying. A camp Asian guy in thick white-framed glasses and a noncey arty haircut begged to differ, and spent a month tackling her negative body image.

First he stood Zoe next to women she thought were thinner than her: in fact they were all fatter. Lesson? You’re not as lardy as you think, dear.

Second he made her buy flattering clothes that weren’t beige or black, though it all went awry when she ended up dressed like a cowboy. Lesson? Never take fashion advice from a guy in a turquoise paisley pattern cardigan. Oh, and smaller clothes make big people look bigger.

And third he let her estimate her body mass on a computer: she overestimated by 16%. Lesson? You look normal, so get over it.

All in all, it’s a likeable show and a refreshing change from the wanton butchering of the likes of 10 Years Younger. Whether it can sustain interest over a whole series is another matter but, nevertheless, hats off to a show that encourages people to improve their self-esteem without surgery.

And at the end of the month Zoe was so happy she had a naked photo shoot: “I don’t want to be Kate Moss,” she concluded. Though that might be because she don’t fancy the idea of Pete Doherty’s knob.

From a show that built self-esteem to one that broke it down: Bad Lads Army: Extreme (ITV, 9pm), my biggest TV guilty pleasure. I find it satisfying to watch yobs intimidated by hard bastard officers, though I reckon there are grannies across this proud land enjoying it ten times more.

This is the third in the current series, where an assortment of thugs are training for the parachute corps. It isn’t easy. First thing in the morning they’re outside naked, not looking that good while wiping the poo out of somebody else’s arse. And this is followed by a delicious breakfast of worms, high protein locusts and grub omelettes. Yum.

But the best moments come from Provo Sergeant Weston, a 9’3’’ scary bald bastard who wouldn’t look out of place in a Guy Ritchie film. They bring him in when someone needs a punishment beasting. And big beastings are in order when three of the bad lads use their night camouflage training to try to sneak to the pub. They only get to a residential street nearby: if only they’d waited for next week’s lessons in pavement camouflage.

When they’re brought back Weston isn’t happy, making them crawl along the floor with craftily positioned barrels adding extra pain. And then his favourite trick: he makes them make an animal noises while they’re doing it. Previous weeks have included dogs and pigs, so what is it this week?

“Make like a fuckin’ duck or you’re going to be there all night,” he screamed.

“Quack quack… quack quack,” all three replied, before they were stripped naked and thrown in jail: cold, pissed off and not particularly good looking.

The rest of red section was punished in the morning, including fat Welshman Private Jimson – aka Oddjob – the guy favourite to go mad from the weight bullying and shoot himself in the toilets a la Full Metal Jacket. Still, the exercise might help him shift some pounds. Oh come on… flattering clothes won’t make everyone look better naked. And come to it, neither would standing next to a naked me: sure, I’m an odd looking lanky bastard, but I ain’t the goddam Elephant Man.

Friday, July 21

The biggest mystery of all

Detective caper fan, Andrew Kidd, wonders what the BBC is up to with Lynley

Over the past five years someone at the BBC has seen something that has passed me by. Year after year I've wondered why the BBC continued to recommission The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (BBC1, 8pm). Don't get me wrong, I love the Inspector Lynley series... the original books that is. It's just the TV version which doesn't work. So would anything change, in this, the first episode of the fifth series? I hoped so, but frankly no. Sharon Small remains by far the best thing about the show as DC Barbara Havers. Awkward, ongoing problems with authority and a tendency to follow her own path are compensated for an uncanny intuition as to who the real villians are. ('Your funny facts aren't facts,' says her new [misgiuded] boss). Although Small captures all of these characteristics beautifully, the script still fails to give her to proper role Elizabeth George provides in the books. Now before anyone thinks I've lapsed into 'It's not as good as the book' mode, the show's major weakness continues to have nothing to do with the writing. Nathaniel Parker (Lord Asherton aka DCI Thomas Lynley) just cannot act. More specifically he can't use his facial muscles. Parker is a firm follower of the Sir Roger Moore school of acting: movement is a bad thing. Spitting Image used to do a brilliant Moore, with the puppet only able to move an eyebrow. If it ever came back Parker would be Moore's seamless replacement. Every year when a new series of Lynley comes on I really want it to work. And every year I'm disappointed that it fails to do so.

The casting of Liza Tarbuck as the DCI in charge of the case (Lynley is suspended) promised a welcome change of focus, but as much as I like Tarbuck, she seemed to spend more time being a bolshy version of herself rather than stretching her acting abilities. (Someone bring back Linda Green.) As with the previous episodes, cramming the plots into 90minutes doesn't work, especially when the script necessarily tries to bring Lynley's personal life into it.

I really wanted to enjoy this but it dragged. And, with about half an hour to go I needed to check the timing of another programme (which requires using Ceefax on BBC2 as my BBC1 signal isn't the best) and I ended up watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey (BBC2, 8.30pm) for a quarter of an hour, rather than labour through the Lynley denouement. Enough said I think. I love detective stories and really want TV versions to work. Sadly Lynley has once again joined the feeble efforts of ITV's Rebus as a huge letdown.Is there still time to ditch Parker, the director and the writers (Peter Jukes on this occasion) and spread one story over a few episodes (think Prime Suspect)? I fear not. Shame.

Wednesday, July 19

The TV commissioner always knocks twice

He’s seen it all before, but Sorted survives the ignominy of being TV’s latest gritty northern drama, says Big Brian Yates

You can tell a lot from a title. BBC1’s new drama Sorted (Tuesday, 9pm) is clearly an addition to the Clocking Off genre. You know the formula: introduce a bunch of likeable working–class stereotypes (in this case a team of postmen;) tell their individual stories in discrete episodes with some touching human drama and a dash of humour; weave in a continuing narrative thread and cleverly pull it all together at the end (leaving enough loose ends for at least one more series.) So what about the title? Apart from the obviously cool ‘90s teen slang appeal, Sorted tells you what these posties spend most of their screen time doing: showing them posting letters might involve one or two amusing incidents with small ferocious dogs and perhaps a few non-PC encounters with scantily–clad housewives, but we would see mostly uniformed men walking the streets pushing letters through doors, which isn’t great television.

Showing them in the office, sorting, gives us the pleasure of working out some key character questions. Who is the randy one? Who is screwing the wife of this week’s main man, Harry? Can the friendship between Harry and the boss, Charlie, be as perfect as it seems? The setting even allows writer Danny Brocklehurst to indulge himself with the boss’s classic line: ‘My office – now!’ I wish I’d written that!

There were a lot of pleasures to be had from the first episode of Sorted. The plot started off with a too–neat coincidence of honest Harry falling for the woman whose life he had saved (asthma attack - happens to postmen all the time!) just as his own marriage began to fall apart. But some crafty twists ensued, and there was a promising hint of dirty office politics towards the end.

There was humour of a sort as two of the boys tailed mysterious new man, Jack, popping out from behind trees and falling over to the strains of Booker T, plus politics as they discussed why Jack is so mysterious: ‘Maybe he’s a Tory?’ with the riposte ‘What? He’s a scouser!’ There’s a classy soundtrack, with rival teams in the sorting office competing to play Duran Duran louder than The Who on their radios, and Edwin Starr and The Velvelettes at the wedding anniversary disco. What you don’t get is any sort of picture of the working lives of real people, but, hey – what do you want? This is television drama! I’ll probably watch it again.
Stand-up and be counted

David Davies laments the lack of stand up on TV

In the early 1970s there was a show on ITV called The Comedians. It was a lesson in simplicity: comics, from clubs, telling jokes to an audience, their acts edited and jumbled into half an hour of quickfire fun. Sometimes over 50 jokes made it into one show. It birthed regional comedy legends, including Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Tom O'Connor, Mike Reid and the immortal Jim Bowen. Later revivals found the talent of Stan Boardman and Roy Walker.

As well as spawning Bullseye, Catchphrase and the no-superlative-for-it genius of Crosswits, The Comedians showed TV how to do stand-up. The message was clear - keep it simple and it will work. So what happened?

Jack Dee, a man so bilious he leaves a slimy trail wherever he walks, was given his own show a few years back. Don't remember it? It was called Jack Dee's Happy Hour (they were burning the candle at both ends coming up with that corker) and it featured Jack interacting with people in a variety of increasingly boring situations. The show was a total waste of his talent, verging on criminally offensive. Some respite came from the short moments he had to scythe down whatever had bugged him during that particular week.

More successful was Jack Dee Live At The Apollo. This was, as the better title suggested, Jack Dee, Live At The Apollo. Introducing a different comedian every week, it was a feast of stand-up craftsmanship. Some were misses, others were big hits, as anyone who saw Omid Djalili's routine will attest to. Then there was Jack, taking centre stage for one show and reminding us of how sharp he can be.

It's a crime that's been committed for years. Billy Connolly was strait-jacketed by his world tours, the glimpses of perhaps the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation all too brief between the Scot expounding on the virtues of aboriginal tapestry weaving. Lee Evans has been shoe horned into one horrific sitcom, with the best of his work relegated to the Paramount Comedy Channel - the one broadcasting outlet that understands stand-up and knows how to present it.

There's more. Friday Night with Jonathan Ross is a good show because it's with Jonathan Ross. His skits between guests are often hilarious, worth staying with the show for even when his line-up includes legendary raconteurs like Nigel Harmon. The Friday Night Project is worthless on a Friday night because everyone who would want to watch a show like that is busy out in clubs getting off their face. Turn it into a Thursday pre-jolly comic showcase with new comedians getting a chance to make us laugh.

These are only the comedians who are currently on TV. The aforementioned Omid Djalili would surely create the kind of satire even Jon Stewart would bow to, whilst Sean Lock has proven on several different quiz shows that he is currently the funniest man outside of the mainstream. He deserves something better than TV Heaven, Telly Hell. Then there's Jo Brand, worthy of so much more than an unfunny advert clip show, and Victoria Wood, who would surely do a few hours of stand-up for the right price. The talent is there in abundance.

There is one man who has had it right all along. Jasper Carrott's last series was stand-up of the very highest calibre, laugh out loud, bladder-bursting stuff. The set up was a couple of cameras pointed at a balding Brummie in front of the blandest of stages. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

Tuesday, July 18

Mind Shocking

Rachel Calton passes an animal keen eye over last night's beastly Channel 4 documentary

From the outset I expected Mindshock: Feral Children (Channel 4, 9pm) to be an X-Files type expose, but it was unveiled to be more suspiciously like a Discovery Channel filler bought by Channel Four to add to its profile of (sometimes gratuitously) weird human phenomena programmes; the real life 'Who ate Gilbert Grape' fat person, the family who walk on all fours, twelve year olds who still breastfeed etc.

But where Channel 4 docs usually carry an edgy and disturbing phenomena, coupled with rational documentary making, in tune with the moral bearings of its audience, this programme left me more concerned about the programme makers than the neglected children bought up by stray dogs in small Ukrainian villages - potentially quite a crowd-puller I thought.

The sympathetic footage of the Ukrainian father, making utterances about having mislaid his wife, (after leaving his three year old in the yard so long she decided to turn to dogs for company) to the unquestioning account of the child who was returned to her mother (the same mother who failed to protest to her husband about keeping the daughter in a cage in the front room of the house for 13 years) gave this documentary so little moral bearing you felt you had entered a void of lost reasoning. Parts of it would have seemed no more absurdist if billed 'a defence of parenting today'.

Whilst straight reported facts such as 'without a mother to love him he turned to wild dogs' made this on the edge of spoof-like, throw away comments such as 'with the collapse of the soviet union, more children turned to dogs… The authorities began to be concerned' showed there to be unexplored depths of sinsterism here, which anyone making the documentary seemed to fail to acknowledge.

The programme, however, claimed to be giving us the answer to, the modestly proposed question, 'what makes us human?' And apparently the ability to grasp grammar was a fair conclusion. I had no idea until watching this that my grasp of grammar is what defined me as part of the human race.

One point that was interesting was whether feral children had missed the window of opportunity in which to learn a language in the time they spent without human contact, which in some cases they had.

But this, seemingly scientific valid point, was lost amongst everything from the account from the city detective who once discovered a feral child, to the random array of clinical/ psychological/ educational/ linguistic/ child trauma/ dog psychology specialists who were called in to inform viewers that the line drawing they had just watched a feral child draw was 'not a sophisticated drawing' and that in the five years Oxana, the main case study in the programme, spent with dogs, she failed to pick up human language.

The fact that the footage of a rescued Oxana living and socialising in a close supported community was not enough to say she would be accepted in the outside world, seemed to detract from what could otherwise have been quite a life-affirming story.

A programme which failed to morally question the material it documented, and without the balls to look at the unanswered questions around these cases of neglect, meant I might as well have watched a bunch of unneglected children run round like animals on Big Brother.

Body Shock seemed to be a gritty and eye-opening series for Channel Four, Mind Shock was a shocker of a follow up, fooling at least one cheated viewer.

Monday, July 17

Tribe and tribulations

The BBC's anthropology series is anything but primitive, says Mark Lewis

Bruce Parry is the natural heir to Hunter S Thompson, the inventor of Gonzo journalism. But where Thompson mixed it up with Hells Angels, earning their trust and enjoying liberal chemicals on the way, nobody is more Gonzo than Parry.

In a welcome return for Tribe (Sunday BBC2, 9pm), Parry goes to live with the Bume, one of the most feared warrior tribes in Ethiopia. It is not long before he is digging wells and having coffee spat in his face (the last time I spat my coffee in someone's face, I was thrown out of Costa, but this, apparently, is a sign of affection). Thompson’s biking, drinking and smoking with the mentalist Hells Angels is tame by comparison. It should not surprise us that Parry should have fit in so well with the tribe. But, of course, the Bume (don’t call them that in person - it means bad smelling) have not seen the first series.

We have already seen several episodes of this implausibly good bloke, making some of the most remote tribes on the planet like him as much as we do. But here he needs to prove himself for the first time all over again. So he plays with the kids, plays with their machine guns, eats congealed cows blood, and fights playfully with lunatic tribesmen.

By the end, he is holding hands with some of the most feared fighters in Ethiopia whose warriors famously killed 600 rival villagers including their children, killing cattle with a single blow to the flank, and having cow's blood spat in his face by toothless elders. He is also initiated as one of the tribe, and having his Bume name sung by dancing tribeswomen, which surely makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, July 13

Roll Up, Roll Up

Richey Nash finds the sentimental bone in his body for a nine-year-old acrobat, and can't praise Paul Merton highly enough. Is Nash feeling okay?

Circus (Sky Travel, 7.30pm) won’t breathe new life into docu-soaps. How could it? It’s on Sky Travel. But there was one engaging character: Dima, a nine-year-old Russian acrobat in an Australian circus. He doesn’t see other children because he’s home schooled, so acts up in rehearsals. Then everyone gets pissed off until he cries.

“He’s luckier than other kids because he’s got a whole family here,” said the home schooling teacher.

“No he’s not,” says me. “It’s basically child abuse. You can’t make chimps perform in the circus against their will, so why can you with a child? Eh?”

It’s an unanswerable question, a fact that wouldn’t matter on Ant and Dec vehicle Pokerface (ITV, 8pm) because the show’s all about bluffing. But the show won’t last long. Why? No tension. During the game the home audience sees who’s winning, who’s losing and who'll get the boot.

“We’ll be back in three,” said Dec, to build tension before a break.

“But I know what’s going to happen when we get back,” says me. It must be tense if you’re in a studio, but not at home. And irritating pair Ant and Dec don’t help matters: they’re too happy-go-lucky. They can’t do tension. They’re happier making dick jokes about Vietnamese currency, the dong.

“Have you ever walked into a Vietnamese bar and slapped your dong down on the bar?” asked Dec, amusing the nation’s 10-year-olds. Well, it amused children and the idiots jazzed from the free thrill of sitting in a studio audience. Come on Ant, come on Dec: go and torture some idiot celebs in an Australian jungle. Far away. Please.

Then I flicked to Only Fools On Horses (BBC One, 9pm) to see celebs being tortured nearer to home, in the world of competitive show jumping. Yawn. Still, I’d rather watch that than see Sophie Anderon get all neurotic on the non-celebrity Love Island (ITV, 10pm) because Shane from Boyzone won’t do her. Oh, boo hoo… get a life… and a personality.

But I’d rather watch neither so I waited until a programme I like, Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns (BBC4, 9.30pm). Okay, this was a repeat of the first in the series – about Buster Keaton – but I hadn’t seen it.

Now, it’s about silent film. Don’t roll your eyes. Really, if you’re willing to give it a go you’ll find Merton a passionate, engaging host and will come away with an appreciation for the technical skill needed by Keaten, Charlie Chaplin and the like in their art. Yes, it's an art.

The show keeps up the energy by flicking between bits of Merton lecturing, interviews with fellow fans and original clips. And the conversation bits don’t detract: chances are, silent film sceptics would find it boring if they weren’t there. Then the show rounded off with a whole 25-minute Buster Keaton film: The Goat. Seriously, I know you don’t believe me, but I can’t recommend Silent Clowns highly enough.

Still, I couldn't watch Keaton clowning that acrobatically without thinking about shedding a tear for poor young Dima. I mean, most people run away to the circus. Lets hope that poor kid can do it the other way round.
Beeny's World

She may look like she's smuggled one or two of Gordon Ramsey's pies but Sarah Beeny is the best thing in TV home improvement, says Helen Parton

The UK, it seems, has an insatiable appetite for home owning related TV. Shows like Property Ladder (8pm Channel 4) chug along happily year after year, without really offering anything entirely new. You know the score by now then: guessing whether Sarah Beeny: lovably crap hair and looking a bit lumpy and bumpy – is pregnant or has she just thought fuck it, I’ll never be as thin as Naomi Cleaver, I’ll just wear a big coat like Kirsty Allsopp and eat bacon sarnies like a builder. Answer this series: pregnant.

The wannabe property developers of Property Ladder never tire of not listening to the sensible Beeny and instead plumping for ludicrous domestic arrangements like having the en suite on the roof/kitchen in the attic etc. One woman in last night’s episode wanted to have some kind of trompe l’oeil double garage doors without there being room to park a microscooter in the space, another opted for hideous neo classical tile reliefs and horrid lavender paintwork.

Alas, as nearly always happens, we were denied our twopenneth of schadenfreuderism, and the two projects made a profit. Unlike Cruella de Cleaver, Beeny does seem genuinely pleased after all that her protégées have succeeded despite not heeding her advice and we love her for it too. Just sort out that barnet Sarah and for God’s sake don’t go back to that curly mop or badger stripe highlights you had a few years ago.

All this mortgage obsessional TV must seem madness to our apartement dwelling friends across the Channel, happily renting until the end of their days. What can they find to fill their schedules with instead – 100 Greatest Celebrity Shrugs? Competitive Gauloise Smoking Live? Well, according to the man from L’Equipe on Channel 4 News (Channel 4, 7pm) the French like nothing better than to sit down religiously to watch the news en famille at 8pm prompt. Not last night though, they were gripped by the sight of Zinedine Zidane’s Gallic mumblings on Canal +’s exclusive interview, which shed as much light on what made him headbutt the Italian player in the World Cup Final as a torch with a dodgy battery. He doesn’t regrette rien is all he seemed to say.

I suspect the French might be partial to a bit of the F Word (Channel 4, 9pm) though – maybe we should have tried exporting that instead of lamb all those years ago. A shame they’ve got rid of monkey boy Giles Coren as I wouldn’t have minded seeing him in a crate on fire surrounded by angry farmers in Calais. It’s all tasty offerings – Dermot O’Leary identifying which bollocks came from which beast, Gordon Ramsay threatening to pull the bollocks off some Bolton blokes and Janet Street Porter going on as if she had a mouthful of ‘em. Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 10

Battle of the balls

It may be a silly game for rich fops, but the tennis commentary sure out does the football says Mark Lewis

So goodbye to a summer of sport. It hardly seems fair to compare Wimbledon to the football, when we weren’t even aware there was any tennis on until England crashed out of the World Cup - in the clash of summer sports it was men against boys.

But then tennis coverage is used to that. In Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin-Hardenne, a mere slip of a boy, faced a full grown man. It was the Wimbledon women’s final (Saturday, BBC1 1.30pm) and the BBC rolled out the big guns. In this case it meant John McEnroe, simply the best pundit on television. In any sport.

He is helped, by the seriousness with which tennis analysis is treated on the BBC. Hawkeye is used with intelligence and purpose, showing speed, angles and line calls. Then there are the statistics. "Don’t you hate statistics," said Gary Linekar as the World Cup final (BBC1, 7pm) was about to kick off. To be fair, it was part of Linekar’s standard repetoire of gag-tastic anchoring, but it might as well have been an epitaph for the BBC’s World Cup coverage to date.
At the beginning of the Wimbledon men’s final (Sunday, BBC1 1.30pm) we learned that Federer was about to serve his 80th unbroken service game in a row. There were figures for, amongst others, the number of first serves completed, the number of first serve points won, and the number of unforced errors. Better still, there was analysis of what that meant; of why, for example, Nadal was unwilling to come to the net.

Best of all there were only measured interjections throughout; no mindless commentary while there was a rally on. I don’t know whether that is because the players can hear while the commentators talk but it is nevertheless welcome. Certainly the main commentators are helped by the colour commentators’ adherence to convention.

In David Pleat, ITV’s World Cup final coverage (Sunday, 6pm) had no such luck. There is a real sense that Pleat believes that whatever he might be saying is more important than what is happening on the screen. As, for example, we were shown Thierry Henry flinching from the stench of smelling salts after a suspected concussion which could have ended his tournament, Pleat ploughed on about the merits of Italy’s formation.

And this is no isolated case. The truth is that by the time Pleat has finished ruminating on what colour trousers the referee might have turned up to the match in, we could have missed two goals, a sending off, a 21-man brawl, and the Pussycat Dolls streaking away from an angry tiger.
He and Tyldsley were trying manfully to outstupid each other. Pleat kicked off with the observation that, "Henry is god in the air, there is no doubt about that," despite that being the only doubt about the France strikers’s all-round game.

Tyldsley chipped in with, "anybody who’s anybody is here," over a crowd shot of two people I’ve never seen.

We need to be fair here. Perhaps tennis lends itself better to statistics and analysis. But where the BBC has spent its football spondulas on bringing an army of former England International cheerleaders, the tennis bucks have gone on an army of analysts. And I can see no reason why there cannot be a Football equivalent of tennis’s James Goodall or Channel 4 cricket’s Simon Hughes whose job it is to analyse the small things which viewers cannot; crunch the numbers and come up with real new information.

Tennis is also not hampered by any real sense that a Briton could do well, and the jingo-free commentary reflects this. So by the time the England-free football final occurred the bellicoseness of the commentary (which I admit I rather enjoyed) in the past few weeks was gone. And so, the BBC disposed of Ian Wright to be replaced with Martin O’Neill.

for sure, there was some good early analysis from Alan Hansen on Lillian Thuram in which Alan Shearer added nothing of interest, before an interminable package on the Italian scandal from Garth Crooks. There were some flourishes from O’Neill. And yet still nobody noticed. Real pundits would have spotted how much both the France and Italy coaches looked like the recently ill Paul O’Grady.

McEnroe would. And given ITV's bizarre invitation to cricket's Shane Warne to analyse one of Australia's games earlier in the tournament, it would not stretch credulity too far to imagine him there in four years time.

Instead we had to enjoy him on the tennis, and to marvel at Sue Barker who anchored with consummate professionalism but who (I am reliably informed) is a marriage wrecker who tried, unsuccessfully, to lure a former England cricket player to her bosom while being friendly with his wife.

So, at least in the battle between football and tennis commentary, (and for the sake of a weak joke) we can console ourselves that she is a sexual deviant. And that, my friends, is something that could never be said about Pleat.

Saturday, July 8

Eastenders Come on Down

Lucien Mettommo struggles through an evening of turgid dross

Okay so the world cup is over, or might as well be. Television scheduling has returned to normality, and it’s hard to say whether this is a good thing considering the tripe served up to the public on Thursday night. I began the evening by enduring an episode of Eastenders (7.30, BBC1). I know it’s the summer doldrums and the big winter storylines are but a cataract glint in the writers’ eyes, but this was actually painful to watch.

Sonia reluctantly signed her divorce papers. Isn’t it about time we put the Sonia story to bed? It’s a sick joke by the writers to have the love-life of this homely looking lass relentlessly visited again and again. Perhaps we could change the premise of this series altogether and make it into some sort of gameshow.

I personally enjoyed playing spot the Winston (three times by the way) in between weak dialogue that makes Big Brother contestants look like Noel Coward. Another game could be “spot the improbable scenario” in which a character’s moral decision is determined by overhearing a random conversation in the Queen Vic.

After Eastenders, I didn’t believe by fragile soul could withstand an episode of Holby City or the Bill. So to lift my spirits I decided to watch my taped version of the second round World Cup match between the Ukraine and Switzerland.

An hour later I returned to the television schedule and decided that since my mind was already in meltdown, I would watch Big Brother (9pm, Channel 4). The episode revolved around the eviction decision made by Aisleyne and the subsequent 40 minutes of tears which followed. They are a cretinous bunch but I believe I have a new favourite. I always liked Pete largely because he says ‘wanker’. But now, with the arrival of Spiral, a north-side Dubliner, I’ve changed my mind. He’s clearly a recovering heroin addict and watching him slowly fall to pieces will be great telly.

To round off a proper bastard Thursday TV I settled down to an episode of 2 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (UK Gold, 10.50pm). Enough said.

Friday, July 7

Farewell to a legend

David Davies says goodbye to the man who did more than anyone else to shape television in the last half century

Obituary: Aaron Spelling (April 22nd 1923 - June 23rd 2006)

"The knocks by the critics bother you…you have a choice of proving yourself to 300 critics or 30 million fans. You have to make a choice. I think you're also categorized by the critics. If you do something good they almost don't want to like it." - Aaron Spelling

Aaron Spelling produced over five thousand hours of television in his lifetime. Alone, this is a remarkable feat; to be so prolific at a consistently high standard is exceptional. His body of work traces a timeline across quality, popular television of the past fifty years, including The Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Dynasty, Twin Peaks, Beverly Hill 90210 and Melrose Place.

Spelling arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s penniless. By the 1980s Forbes were estimating his wealth to be in the region of $300 million. The key to his success was the innate ability to mix mass appeal with decent television. Critics often attacked Spelling for creating primetime soap operas dressed up as serious drama. As is often the case with critics, they missed the point. Take Starsky and Hutch: we all remember Huggy Bear, Sammy Davis Jr’s psuedo-pimp alter ego, and that cardigan, but what most forget is how dark the show could be. Witness ‘The Fix’, where Hutch goes cold turkey after being forced into heroin addiction after being kidnapped. This is dark stuff, and was only shown on British television in 1999 as part of a theme night. On the flipside, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson were able to take the format and make a buddy movie out of it. It’s a trick Spelling pulled off throughout his career. Where else could you see a CV that includes vintage melodramatic fluff like Dynasty followed a year after its conclusion by Twin Peaks, still amongst the oddest, best shows ever made? Spelling was no stranger to the so bad it’s good rule either, as proven by the "did he actually just say that to her?" brilliance of early morning Channel 5 highlight, Sunset Beach. Being a good producer entails an understanding not only of the industry in which you work, but also the audience that you work for. For five decades, Spelling had his finger on exactly what was making popular culture tick.

Then there was his ability to pick out new talent. He launched the career of Farrah Fawcett in Charlie’s Angels, employed John Travolta and Nick Nolte for debut roles in TV movies and is also credited for launching the career of Heather Locklear who co-starred with William Shatner in TJ Hooker. He also turned Luke Perry into a superstar. Everyone makes mistakes.

Spelling’s private life was as interesting as his on-screen work. It was an awesome case of nepotism that led to the casting of his daughter Tori in the only-sex-on-legs-need-apply Beverly Hill 90210. Rumours surrounding constant family in-fighting unfortunately impinged even upon his death, with media speculation rife as to whether Tori was there when her father died. It was the final fascinating chapter from a man who as a child of eight suffered what he termed a nervous breakdown and spent a year in bed watching television, triggering his lifelong infatuation with the medium.

In 2001 Spelling was diagnosed with oral cancer. In June 2006 he suffered a severe stroke, and died five days later at the age of 83. Spelling’s death is the end of an era, and the passing of a television legend. Jaclyn Smith, star of Charlie's Angels, said in a statement: "Aaron's contributions in television are unequalled. To me, he was a dear friend and a truly genuine human being."

Wednesday, July 5

Oh, Brother...

Richey Nash spends the evening waiting for fireworks when Aisleyne goes back into the main BB house. Instead he gets waterworks. Curses.

For me Ray Mears’ Bushcraft (UKTV History, 9pm) is the most pointless show on TV. I don’t need the skills to survive in a barren netherworld. Why hunt, kill and skin a deer for clothes when I can spend £4 on a Primark shirt instead?

But that’s not my main problem: my main problem is Ray Mears, a man smarmier than any supposedly rough, tough outdoor type should be. And by the way, if he’s supposed to live off non-poisonous worms and tree bark, why isn’t he thinner? The only way he lives off bushcraft is if he’s found a way to transform tree bark into cake.

“Even here [in the US] there are places rich in bushcraft,” he says, two minutes in. No Ray, there are places like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – the largest wilderness in the US – where nobody goes. And if you go there you’ll have to use bushcraft, but don’t pretend everyone’s doing it. Normal people find it too wildernessy.

Feeling resentful I switched to Gordon Ramsay’s F Word (Channel 4, 9pm), in time to see Darren Gough giving Gordon a tender ballroom dancing lesson in the kitchen.

“You can be my bitch,” said Darren.

“Later, Darren,” said Gordon. And they kissed. Well, they didn’t, hardly surprising given Gordon’s jibes about Darren’s pink t-shirt.

Then Janet Street-Porter did a film about killing a goat. But even watching a goat die while JSP talked in her idiosyncratic nasal whine was more pleasant than the bits where Gordon ramped up his sweary bit: apparently JSP’s a ‘mouthy gobshite’ who talks ‘bollocks’, but brought him cooked goat that was ‘fucking delicious’. How manly.

But the best bit was when Ramsay had a go at the restaurant customers for not liking one of his dishes. Apparently it was too watery. Gordon’s response? “It’s poached, for fuck’s sake.” You tell ‘em, Gordon. It's yours: it can’t be rubbish.

And then Davina McCall introduced a “very special” Big Brother (Channel 4, 10pm). You may have noticed there’s a new house. In fact, so have the housemates because the walls are too thin and they can hear each other through them. Nice one. Clearly the builders are thicker than those walls.

Last night four of these went into the main house. Now, the Animal-O-Meter broke so I’ve wheeled out the Richey Nash Furniture-O-Meter to rate them:

Says “I’m mad, me” and looks like a bad trannie
Furniture: cheap tacky leather sofa with overly big cushions

Boring girl who thinks she’s interesting
Furniture: bidet – looks naughty but it’s pointless. And she's in the BB house, which means she’s close to a lot of arseholes. Fwahaha...

Has a face that looks both friendly and whiny
Furniture: old wooden throne with a few flourishes

Irish Vanilla Ice who explains rap threats unthreateningly
Furniture: magazine rack – you wouldn’t notice if it was gone

And a quick mention for the following guy who got sent home after Aisleyne was forced to choose to kick out him or Spiral. Byeee…

Vest wearing muscle man who wears women’s pants. Maybe.
Furniture: a sold dependable cupboard

It was all a bit boring, drawn out and confusing. But what we really wanted to see was Aisleyne going back to the house of hatred. What drama. What excitement. What a let down that they didn’t have time to show any of it, even after extending it to an hour and five minutes. And the few seconds they showed were Aisleyne crying. Diddums.

More pointless than Ray Mears? More of an offensive waste of time than Gordon Ramsay? It could only be BB.
TV, Films and Football

Big Brian Yates captures a microcosm of the 20th Century's great cultural phenomena, in a single night in front of the box

Tuesday night’s menu offered serious political documentary and a psychological study of the twentieth century’s major art form. It also offered the world cup semi-final between Germany and Italy (ITV 1, 8pm) So guess what I watched?

Half-time in the footy did give me a chance to catch part of China (BBC 2, 9pm) where some professors talked about the freedom of political protest. ‘We are a nation drowning in lies,’ said one. (Cue mental visions of diving footballers.) ‘We have a slave mentality; we should take up a sword and fight,’ added another.’ A third suggested that, ‘rich people’s dogs live better than the peasants.’

After the 90 minutes were up, psychologist Slavoj Zisek explained what movies can tell us about our deepest, darkest desires and fears (he had not replaced Terry Venables, rather he presented The Perverts’ Guide to the Cinema, More 4, 10pm). From Vertigo to The Matrix, films show that our desires for pleasure require fantasy and that, if we look too closely at the truth, we find ‘shit.’ I think of Zinedine Zidane and Argentinian midfield play. Then I think of Rooney and England.

But among all this highbrow navel gazing there was a football match to watch. The German press had whipped up the tension by referring to the Italians as ‘oily mama’s boys’. Military imagery is rife as young men whose dogs live better than peasants pick up their swords to fight. “No prisoners!” declared Clive Tyldesley. David Pleat caught metaphor madness, calling Genarro Gatuso a "splendid ferret" before suggesting that another player had taken to his new position "like a duck to water . . . and stuck to his guns!" But then something strange happened: a fouled player starts to perform his multiple dying swan roll, changes his mind, gets up and accepts the proffered hand of the fouler. As an Italian player lies injured, one German kicks the ball into touch while another massages his opponents leg! Liberal refereeing seems to have encouraged this game to be played in a positive spirit, suggested Tyldesley. We have a serious political message here. “The two teams have behaved like men!" hymns our commentator. And there is hope for humanity.

Tuesday, July 4

Laughs, deaths and tragedy

Rachel Calton finds Monday night on Channel 4 is as emotionally confusing as an attractive ladyboy

Niall Fergason in War of the Worlds (8pm Channel 4) does what David Attenborough does for wildlife or Michael Palin does for travelling: making history crucial, fascinating viewing, and leaving you wondering how your science/history/geography teacher ever managed to make it all seem so dull.

Ferguson goes against the grain concentrating on dates for a different slant on “textbook history” without sensationalising events which really don’t need sensationalising, or letting his own conspiracies get in the way of giving us the facts, which are served straight up.

Last night’s programme on 20th Century violence opened with the rape of Nanking during which the Japanese slayed, abused and raped over 30,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians who they believed to be sub-human - a forgotten holocaust which took place in 1937 and before Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.

War of the Worlds was followed by Big Brother (Channel 4, 10pm). After half an hour’s heavy viewing about world changing issues, commentary such as, ‘yesterday Spiral played football with a grapefruit,’ seemed wildly out of context. But, sure enough, I was soon in the zone whereby eviction is the be-all-and-end-all of life as we know it.

A cruel twist of Channel 4 scheduling!

But down to BB business: Last night the ‘other house thing’ turned out to be one big cowboy production failure; a cheap stunt scuppered by thin walls (or worse, one big deliberate hoax, a cheap stunt orchestrated by cowboy producers). And if Big Brither is a game, why is everyone (Nicky particularly) so wildly elated at the entrance of an additional housemate, when this, surely, is a blow to the competition stakes! I am with the weird and warped paranoid Leah on this one. And if Nicky can be this frenzied by another human being, what on god’s earth will happen when she is released into the real world?

While Channel 4 saw War of the Worlds go head to head with War of the Houses, there was a tough battle on BBC2 as Catherine Tait’s Catherine Tait show went back to back with Steve Coogan’s Saxondale. This would probably have made a good comedy comparison but both programmes made me laugh in such a frenzied fashion, I forgot about the competition. Not unlike Nicky.

Monday, July 3

Blammy, we're all in it together

Just a single weekend of television sees Nick Yates rediscover his Britishness

Depressing defeat: the inevitable confirmation once again that England are actually no good at football. I was in urgent need of topping up my patriotism this weekend, so was glad to see that Andy Murray had progressed through to the fourth round of Wimbledon, thrashing the much-fancied Andy Roddick in the process.

Never mind he’s from the wrong side of the border. It was time to forget my Englishness and emphasise my Britishness. Off with the miniature car flags of St George and time to proudly bear the Saltire on a sweaty blue wristband in honour of Britain’s new sporting hero.

There was some glorious British TV on Sunday night - the perfect opportunity to indulge my newly-defined national identity. No sooner had the news reader confirmed England’s - sorry, Scotland’s - win in the tennis, but the British Broadcasting Corporation was showing The Somme: From Defeat to Victory.

The gist of this propaganda was that the Slaughter of the Somme was not, as Blackadder would have it, a tactical botch that saw thousands of Tommies die in General Hague’s efforts ‘to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin’. No, lance corporal, it was a rousing experience and, through the lessons learned, we went on to win the War.

Narrated by a kind of toned-down Sean Bean, it was full of shonky dramatic recreation. The common Brit toiled heroically in the trenches. The senior officers - distinguishable by their more elaborate moustaches and pipe smoking skills - learned their lessons miles away from the trenches, huddled around General Hague’s drinks cabinet.

A switch to More 4 brought us one of the highlights from the channel where 4’s programmes go to die. Father Ted never lets you down. Tonight’s was the one where Father Jack dies. My God, the bloke in charge of the schedules at E4 and More 4 must be tired of that one. Yet no matter how many times you hear that great Irish catchphrase ‘feck, arse, drink’, Ted’s always good for a laugh.

British entertainment on the TV turned out to be not so different from English entertainment. The Somme was about our boys’ thrashing camouflaged as a glorious effort where we didn’t deserve to lose. And Ted involved shambolic, farcical antics from members of a profession we should be able to be proud of. Both much like the average England match.