Sads, mads and le lad

Antoine de Caunes (new beard and all) gets serious about trash with Serena Mackesy

Late afternoon at a small television studio in the suburbs of Paris, and a small posse of 14-year-olds - mostly girls painted as if it were evening, with a couple of boys whose smoking, lounging, big-booted posture is betrayed by the autograph books clutched to their sides - is gathered on the pavement outside. In the gloom beyond reception, against a blue backdrop, G-Squad, (pronounce it right: djee-skwud), the French Take That, are performing their mega-dance-smash, "De Haut en Bas". When one says the French Take That, that means that the band contains a Gary (lead singer, big smile, fair hair), a Robbie (though he looks disconcertingly more like the geeky guy in Third Rock from the Sun than Robbie, who has a disconcerting capacity to look like Norman Wisdom himself), a Jason (ponytail, falling-off shirt) and a replacement for How and Marky who has the orange skin-tones and irritating haircut of Peter Andre and the faraway facial expressions of Joe in EastEnders.

G-Squad hop and dip, tart the camera and do those arm movements that the Manc lads did so much better. Out in the editing suite, techies give them a background of dancing psychedelia. And as they sparkle, a slight figure in white satin shirt, fishnet singlet, zip-covered baggy trousers and giant dangling LOVE pendant appears behind them and dances across, arms flailing, in that irritating way your dad used to do before you got to have a record player in your bedroom. The figure is Antoine de Caunes, perky Gallic crumpet and televisual genius, and G-Squad, far from getting their big break into the British market, are being sent up on Eurotrash.

The eighth series of Eurotrash goes to air this Friday. A ninth is pencilled in for the autumn and the seventh programme in this series will be the 50th edition of the programme. Eurotrash, which specialises in finding the sads, mads and lads of our great Union, voice-overed by trainspotting British regional accents, remains a hot favourite with the weekend drunks lacking the cash to go on to a nightclub. The last series pulled in a rating of 2.5 million, which, though it sounds like peanuts in comparison with the 23 million who tuned in for Ricky and Bianca's wedding down in Albert Square, is 25 per cent of the available audience at air-time. Not bad for a minority channel.

The secret behind the show's success is, broadly speaking, a formula that has been used in most of the output of Rapido, the parent company: sex, kitsch, colour and presenters who combine twinkly casualness and satire without blinking. The Girlie Show, Carnal Knowledge and the short- lived but delightful Love in the Afternoon issue from the same stable. De Caunes's presentation of the programme - hammed-up French accent, smooth suits, taking visible pleasure in rolling phrases like "butt-cheeks"over his tongue, is little short of inspired. The series has survived the loss of Jean-Paul Gaultier, the hyper-camp fashion designer, whose flirty chemistry with de Caunes added a surreal touch to the stream of busty blondes which is the programme's main ingredient. He is replaced in the new run by Melinda Messenger, darling of Page Three, who shared a spread in last week's Paris Match with the Spice Girls under dubious congratulation for being "fiere de leur 95c et leur look de pin-up".

"It was a good duet, you know," says de Caunes during a break in filming. He has just finished interrogating Lova Moor, a former showgirl of a certain age who is marketing a scent that smells of lavatory cleaner through French supermarkets at pounds 10 a bottle. As they were setting up, he explained to her that "en Angleterre la serie est une serie de culture", a somewhat disingenuous explanation that caused her to preen with pride. "We were the master and the slave. I was the master, of course." And why have they replaced Jean-Paul with Melinda, another blonde among many? He smiles. "We like beautiful girls with class; that's what we enjoy. She has the perfect silhouette of the girls we want on Eurotrash, you know. We love Page Three girls. It's very tasty and it's what we love in life: what we expect from girls and women, you know. What's funny is that we speak of the tabloids that use these girls, and we speak the way they speak, but most of the time they hate the show. They think it's insulting."

There is something disconcerting about Antoine. It's not just his new beard - a rather Kris Kristofferson effort he's grown in preparation for an upcoming film role - it's the combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar. I have always suspected him of being a bit of closet intellectual, and indeed, he is working hard at taking his career away from the frivolity of television into straight film roles. What I didn't expect is that so much of his on-screen personality would show through in life. It's like talking to a very precocious prep-school boy: he is aware of the implications of everything his shows involve, and without doubt there is an element of subversion in everything he does, seeing how far one can push the boundaries of tat television to show up the failings of less sophisticated offerings. And yet, whenever the subject of breasts comes up, which when you're discussing a show like Eurotrash is often, his eyes light up like a 10-year-old behind a bike shed. He is, in some ways, a typical product of a Jesuit education, with all the convent-girl-goes-wild preoccupations that go with it.

"Breasts? Well, they are beautiful." Even those of Lolo, regular guest and a woman who single-handedly halved the European silicone lake? "No, not Lolo's breasts. You can't call them breasts any more. But she knows the limits. She does regard herself as a pastiche." Those round fox's eyes shine with enthusiasm as he warms to his subject. "Once there was a competition to find the world's biggest breasts. Lolo had a challenger from America, who came on Concorde to take part. And one of her breasts exploded because of the cabin pressure. It would have been a good story for Eurotrash." Ideal.

The thing is, de Caunes is a considerably more serious character than the British public has seen evidence of. He is, for a start, president of the French Aids charity, Solidarite SIDA. His show, Nulle Part Ailleurs, which ran daily for seven years, was more straight than not, though dotted with satirical skits. He wrote the lion's share - 90 minutes' worth every day - himself.

This is a man, it seems, whose boredom threshold is painfully low. He has a reputation as a workaholic - rumours of 20-hour days have circulated - but a lot of this comes from being in possession of a restless brain. "I don't know how to make the frontier between work and pleasure. I work a lot because I'm always working on new projects which are very exciting. I don't feel it like it's working too much." For relaxation, he reads - "I'm a big fan of Robert Louis Stevenson: I think he'd one of the greatest writers of all time, along with Dumas, Maurice LeBlanc, with Stendhal. And I read a lot of background stuff. I've been reading a lot of Jewish novels recently. And I love American novels" - and rides his bike around Trouville, where he lives.

Not that there's much time for that. The de Caunes diary is, as always, crowded. La Divine Poursuite, a film by Michel de Vil, opened in France on 30 April. "It's from a Donald Westlake novel, Dancing Aztecs. It's always stories of people running after something and not exactly knowing what they're running after. It's always very shambolic. I am trying to purchasing a gold statue coming from Africa that's was smuggled. And there are some burglars running after us. It's part comedy, part straight."

Meanwhile, he is about to enter a two-month shoot of a film called L'Homme est une Femme comme les Autres. "It's very different. First of all it's a leading role and we'll be shooting every day for two months. It's the story of a gay Jewish guy who has to marry a girl. It's a kind of edgy comedy." It also sounds like it bears more than a passing resemblance to Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's 1986 movie Dona Herlinda and her Son, but we'll let that pass.

Television, it seems, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past: over the past year, he has cut his small-screen commitments down to Eurotrash and presenting the French Cesar awards. He has no intention of ditching Eurotrash for the time being. "I love it. It's very easy. It's like recreation time. I like being able to work in England. I can't say I particularly like French TV. They're two opposite worlds. French TV is very conventional." Lolo totters past us to the head of the stairs, looking like she has quadruplets strapped to her chest. The sight of her, gripping the hand rail to keep her balance, suddenly fills me with gloom. Does he never find this stream of freaks depressing? "Yes," he says, "but life is a circus, you know. We only show the edge. If you take it seriously, yes, it's a bit depressing. But we made a choice to have fun with it. There are enough reasons to get depressed in life. This is showbusiness. And anyway" - that giggly grin comes back - "as long as I can hurt morals and well-thinking people, I enjoy it. It's a good enough reason to make the show, you know?

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution