Alas! poor Julian, his jokes are beginning to wear as thin as a moth-eaten party frock. By Jasper Rees

TELEVISION: All Rise for Julian Clary, Friday, BBC2
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The Independent Culture
How long can Julian Clary keep it up? His act depends as much on his Dorian Gray looks as his ability to innuendo his way out of a hole (and indeed into one). You can see his future mapped out to resemble the fate of a glamorous actress: as the wrinkles cluster around the neck, the phone stops ringing. When the beauty fades, he might end up being ushered to the margins as quickly as Norman Lamont, the butt of the infamous quip that cost Clary the job to die for of hosting The Generation Game.

All Rise for Julian Clary is the latest vehicle to be assembled to his specifications. After one outing, it's already come down with format fatigue, the curse of so many shows that chase the rainbow of novelty. It's embarrassing just to have to explain it, let alone present it, but what happens is that our host sits in judgement over members of the public who bring their squabbles to him. First up was a man who accused his female neighbours of forcing him to enter a gardening contest. The case was generously endowed with pointless frivolity, and jarred alarmingly with a more genuine dispute between two friends who had fallen out after one of them ended their singing partnership.

The monstrosity of the set works hard to underscore a general air of clumsiness. Far too grand for Clary's purposes, it obliges him to go on long, lonely walks between the two benches that seat the disputants. Perched in what would be the judge's chair in any normal court is his bewigged sidekick Frank Thornton, who's presumably desperate for the money. His presence is an indirect reminder of the days when Clary's spiritual ancestor John Inman played the nation's least threatening homosexual. Not much has changed since Inman's day: the jokes are perhaps more risque now (as a judge, Clary says he's "more rump than pole") and these days his guests know the form. In every sense playing the straight man, one knowingly described his two bedrooms as "front and back".

Like Inman, Clary's humour works best when he's hemmed in by diehard heteros, whom he makes the targets of his putdowns. Whatever the opposite of a fag hag is, he's it. (A het hen?) It's telling that the weakest part of the show came when he had Lionel Blair on: Clary is at his least funny when bouncing gags off the almost-as-camp. That would count as friendly fire, whereas his gunsights are aimed squarely on the naffly dressed enemy.

Blair was taking part in the "Celebrities to the Hebrides" slot, in which the famous stand accused of whoring themselves around shows precisely like this one. It would be too ghastly to see it happen, but we oughtn't to rule out Clary's own mutation from host to perpetual guest chasing the next cheque.

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