Catering for sex

TV Review
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The Independent Culture
In visual terms, My Secret Life (BBC2) looks like nothing so much as the mystery star section in A Question of Sport. You see people's bodies disassembled into a series of close-ups with the occasional tantalising long-shot of the side of a face or a hairstyle. You even, in last night's opening episode, had a shot of a man's hand washing his car - second only to mowing the lawn as a canonical mystery star activity. The purpose, in both cases, is to offer a striptease of identity, though notionally, at least, you aren't supposed to be able to guess who the people in My Secret Life are.

In fact, for the married couple in last night's programme, talking about their adventures in group sex, the device was about as concealing as a peekaboo bustier. Anyone who actually knows this couple would have been able to identify them immediately. "Look Ron," someone will have shrieked last night, "isn't that the Burton's sofa? And that bowl with the condoms in it. They've got one just like that!" There are even fleeting glimpses of their heads, adding confirming details of hairstyle. Perhaps they've slept with all their close friends already, and calculated that such recognition wouldn't matter, but I hope they sent their children to bed nice and early.

For anyone who wouldn't have recognised them, on the other hand, the absence of a full-face interview simply got in the way of the main question that you wanted answered - which was whether you could have brought yourself to have sex with them if they turned up on your doorstep with a St Michael vol-au-vent selection and a willing smile. Is there any kind of selection process for these occasions, you wonder, or is it simply first come, first served? Certainly, on the evidence of the neck-down footage, cellulite and beer-bellies are no bar to enthusiastic participation. Nor is modesty, as long as you're prepared to lend a hand on the sidelines. "One couple came and did not indulge in group sex," said the female voice affably, "but they manned the teapot." Then again, I've led a sheltered life - perhaps manning the teapot is sex not catering.

Modern Times (BBC2) returned for a new series with a depressing but revealing film about bogus callers, the low-echelon criminals who prey on the elderly and confused. It was also an account of the peculiar, abrading nature of police work - nose pushed up hard against the grindstone of human heartlessness. "It's a force priority, allegedly," said one of the understandably morose policemen who do their best to stand between old people and the shell- suited jackals who harry them. That "allegedly" was heavy with cynicism, a recognition that this is a low-status crime carried out against low- status victims. You don't climb the career ladder by looking after old ladies.

The problem for the police is that what qualifies people as targets also disqualifies them as witnesses - they are sometimes senile, often confused about just what has taken place. If they weren't, they wouldn't hand over their savings with such poignantly biddable resignation. Once easy victims have been identified they will be visited again and again, until they have nothing left to give.

Bogus Callers included video footage of some of these visits as well as a secretly recorded interview with one of the criminals - a repellent individual who had shuttered up his conscience with a fantasy of his victims' means: "They're not going to go skint," he said, "the only person that's going to suffer is the next in line that never comes to see them."

His exposure here wasn't any proper justice - but it was a kind of revenge, a local appeasement for the feeling of impotent rage that had grown throughout the programme. It's unlikely that he'll feel any shame, but you can at least hope that he'll receive due recognition for his deeds from his friends and neighbours.

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