Broadcasting: Masochists would love this show

On the wall of our loo hangs a newspaper advertisement dating, I would guess, from the late 1930s. "Television is here, you can't shut your eyes to it," it proclaims. "Television is here to widen your horizon, to give a new depth, a richer meaning to life. For three hours a day, every day of the week, you can watch things happening in the world outside from within the comfort of your own home. The pageantry of some historic ceremony, the tense drama of a great play, the laughter and song of the musical shows, championship fights, news, comment and discussion on current affairs, all these come within your view as soon as you get Television, the most entertaining and informative accompaniment to everyday life the world has ever known."

I pondered these words last week, shortly after watching How Was It For You?, part of BBC2's controversial Adult Lives series. In fact it was not altogether by chance that I found myself in the loo, for listening to three fat men in a pub comparing notes on orgasms was a decidedly stomach- churning experience. For good measure, a gay man then explained how it is possible to reach orgasm while being penetrated from behind. Three women swapped fellatio techniques. And a student confessed to his mates that he had once dipped his penis into a jar of mayonnaise. Nor, apparently, was it unacquainted with crunchy peanut butter. God, how I yearned for the pageantry of some historic ceremony, the tense drama of a great play, or the laughter and song of the musical shows.

I'm not a prude. I might not be looking forward to eating crunchy peanut butter again, and definitely not organic crunchy peanut butter, but I wouldn't dream of challenging television's right to embrace sex in all its glorious, and goriest, detail. On the other hand, there really ought to be limits. Last week, I watched people talking about, or engaging in, gay sex, teen sex, unprotected sex, over-60s sex, sado-masochistic sex, incestuous sex, inter- racial sex, monogamous sex, three-in-a-bed sex, even Nazi sex. Incredible. And that was just EastEnders.

Seriously, though. It is sometimes said that television reflects society, yet the reflection is almost comically distorted, like in those wavy fairground mirrors that give you an elongated torso and miniature legs. I don't know anyone who contemplates sex 20 times a night, like television does. Nor do I know anyone who visits a dominatrix for a weekly spanking. I have my suspicions about an accountant acquaintance, but that's another story. The point is that there is less sado-masochism in real life than there is on the box, where, with a bit of effort, you can find S&M or other unorthodox practices virtually every night of the week. One day, though, real life might catch up. I worry about folk who get their sex education from the telly.

Actually, in all fairness, the programme, Mistress Maria - about a prostitute and dominatrix - was probably the pick of Adult Lives. Largely because Maria herself was a hugely sympathetic character; brave, resourceful, intelligent, yet emotionally crippled by a childhood full of sexual abuse. And it was made sensitively. The other programmes had less of an impact on me. After all, there's only so much sex a man can take. Which may be why, come Thursday evening, I hated the strenuously smutty Let Them Eat Cake (BBC1). Either that, or it wasn't any good.

The BBC1 bosses must have sung hosannas when the synopsis arrived. French, Saunders and Alison Steadman. It was a bawdy 18th-century romp set at the court of Louis XV1. Big wigs and cleavages. Jokes about the guillotine and the pox. Oh, happy day. Yet in their euphoria, they failed to notice that Let Them Eat Cake - or, let's be generous, the first episode - was disastrously unfunny. The female leads, however, gurned and leered heroically. Since Les Dawson left us, nobody gurns better than Jennifer Saunders. In fact, I have long been of the provocative opinion that her high-class gurning, and that of Joanna Lumley, frequently made Absolutely Fabulous seem funnier than it was.

It would take a Woody Allen cameo as Robespierre, at the very least, to make Let Them Eat Cake seem funnier than it is. I've heard it being compared to Blackadder - in which case, unless it rapidly improves, Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson should seek legal advice. Still, at least the dear old studio audience had a good time, almost passing out with laughter at the phrases "multiple orgasm," "hung like a carthorse" and "elephant's scrotum". It was the elephant's scrotum that depressed me most. With apologies to discerning fourth-formers, it was a limp fourth-form gag. The BBC unleashes an expensive new sitcom in a blaze of publicity, featuring two of its most bankable stars, and it is quickly reduced to an elephant's scrotum. I say to the BBC, give Frank Skinner his pounds 20m. You can ill afford to lose him.

Shortly after the credits had mercifully rolled on Let Them Eat Cake, ITV took a rather different perspective on history, unveiling the first of its three-part series The Second World War In Colour. Apparently, film historians have unearthed hours and hours of previously unseen colour footage, and it was presented without frills, but just John Thaw's narration, interspersed with diary extracts and a blessed absence of pundits. It was odd seeing a Second World War with orange flames and blue skies. And it was disturbing seeing all the corpses, probably because they tended to look healthier in colour.

Not only does the Second World War seem more remote in black and white, it also looks unremittingly grim. Colour offers a reminder that the seasons passed as normal between 1939 and 1945. And that Hitler had a choirboy's complexion.

The best documentary of the week, even for those of us fed up with television's obsession with sex, was Secret History's Sex and the Swastika (C4). Actually it was two programmes masquerading as one. The bulk of it focused on Hitler's sexuality, the subject of detailed wartime study by an American psychologist, who hoped that it might shed significant light on his personality.

According to two of his former proteges, who scarpered to America when they fell out of favour, Hitler was heavily into sado-masochism. In the early 1930s he had an affair with his niece, Geli Raubal, whom he allegedly encouraged to squat over him, urinating. In 1931 she committed suicide, although he might have had her murdered. My wife said, I fancy with ironic under-state- ment, "Hitler doesn't get any nicer, does he?"

Of course, the notion that Hitler was a pervert is a convenient one, for none of us likes to think that a man so monstrous could have led a normal domestic life. Some historians insist that he did, and the debate goes on. More interesting was the first third of the programme, about the Political Warfare Executive, which disseminated so-called "black" propaganda from a country house in Hertfordshire. It could, should, have inspired a documentary all of its own.

One of the POE's stunts was to broadcast extraordinarily obscene material, purportedly from inside Germany. Its announcers won the trust of the audience by referring to Churchill as "a flat-footed old Jew", but then subtly undermined the Germans' confidence in their own leadership by detailing the sexual depravity of many of the leading Nazis. Even the Americans were fooled by the broadcasts. But when President Roosevelt found out, he was reportedly highly amused.

A British cabinet minister, regrettably unidentified, was less impressed. He would rather lose the war, he hurrumphed, than win it with such lewd methods. It's hard to imagine a similar burst of piety from those who fight today's television's ratings war. To the detriment of us all, anything goes.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album