TELEVISION: Counsel for the prostitution

WHAT SELLS? Sex sells. Violence sells. Houses sell. Nothing there we didn't know. Much of the time, it all seems very familiar. But sometimes, occasionally, a prime-time documentary takes you where you haven't been before and surprises you.

One such was Under the Sun: What Kind of Gentleman Are You After? (BBC2, Wed), the tale of 32-year-old Joel, owner and chief stud of his own Australian escort business. A cabinet-maker who ran into debt, Joel thought he would use his talent at sex as an earner, and was now doing pretty well.

We first discovered Joel selling himself to a new client on the phone (a set- up, since she was being filmed simultaneously). What was she after in a man? "Relatively taut," she replied, aware - as we were - that she was herself relatively untaut. Would it be forward, she said, for her to ask, er, how big? Joel was ready for this. "Nine and a quarter inches, thick and uncut," was how he described himself. "Fancy having such a small dick!" I thought to myself.

Joel's first act, when he arrived at the rendezvous wearing a leather jacket, a dopey smile and a lousy haircut, was to phone the office. I suddenly realised that he reminded me of nothing so much as an emergency plumber. Or, given his appendage and his box of sex aids, the man from Dynarod ("Ah yes, I think I see the problem, madam. If we just try this ...") But he did come with glowing reviews from his female clientele. "I've never come so quickly in my life, ever," said one. "It's like eating at a very good restaurant," stated another. Well, which is it, quality or speed?

The cost was pounds 110 for two hours, which included the hire of an anti-jealous- husband security guard, and seemed a bit cheap to me. But everybody was keen to show that it was all good, clean liberated fun. You want to get your rocks off? What better than the Zipless Fuck? "He did the deed, he left; it was a mutual adult consenting thing," said the single mum.

Adult yes. Consenting, yes. Mutual? Well, no. As she admitted, "Every woman wants to be cuddled afterwards. I miss that." We also got to see the condoms hidden under Joel's tongue, and the wife and four kids. And it was rather tragic. What will she tell their daughters about why Daddy's away so much? We never found out.

More sex now, but even less mutual. Witness: The Devil Amongst Us (C4, Thurs) was the work of a feisty journalist called Dea Birkett, and dealt with paedophiles. At first I feared that she'd been gulled, when - in her introduction - she told us "just five children were murdered by paedophiles last year" (true, but right now she will be answering letters from the relatives of some of those "just" five), and when she talked about paedophiles being "demonised and loathed". We needed, she said ominously, to "understand".

But my worry was misplaced. Dea was on the side of the kids, and knew exactly who these people were, repeatedly refusing to accept their own versions of themselves. "Why should an eight-year-old be attracted to a 50-year-old man like you?" was one question that sliced through the plausible self-justification of a campaigner for paedophile rights.

Nevertheless, she was too subtle for some. The Daily Mail on Friday stated in a news report that the programme "had portrayed paedophiles as victims and gave them a platform to advocate sex with children ... [and] portrayed [them] as victims who needed to be understood." If I were Birkett, I would put this libel in the hands of a decent QC and force a retraction. Certainly the paedophiles attempted to depict themselves in this way. The key thing is that Birkett, however, was having none of it.

But what I wondered was where it all left us. Paedophiles are ruthless, mendacious and manipulative men, whose sense of self-justification has been immensely reinforced by communicating with each other on the Internet - as was clearly shown in the programme. Fine - we knew most of that. Now, what are we going to do about it? Dea seemed to have no idea.

Still, she was far more interesting than Inside Story: House Traders (BBC1, Tues) which told us, at inordinate length - and with the accompaniment of an infuriating cha-cha played on a Wurlitzer - that estate agents are exactly what we always thought them to be, pretty ordinary people who sell houses. The surprise here was not in the agents, but in the fact that the programme makers were - on the whole - fair to them.

Anyway, 55 minutes was a hell of a long time to have to watch to be reminded of one salient fact that one hadn't forgotten in the first place - which is how precarious the whole business of selling or buying a house can be. The awful young Ashes, a pair of house-selling prickteasers, pulled out of a sale at the last possible moment, collapsing a chain and losing the potential vendors of their house all that they had invested in surveyor's and other fees. OK, people change their minds. But it was their selfishness, their failure to observe the decencies, the lack of any regret or apology, which was so signal. In fact, they seemed to feel that in some way they'd been wronged.

This is the same egoism that provided the raw material for two new, competing series: Neighbours At War (BBC1, Mon), and - rushed out on the same day, with a series to follow at some point in the future) the indistinguishable Neighbours From Hell (ITV, Mon). By the way, next week ITV will show Nannies From Hell, so nominations are hereby invited for other programmes in the ITV "... From Hell" series. I've already got Bosses From Hell, Drivers From Hell, Girlfriends From Hell, Shop Assistants From Hell and, of course, the ultimate: TV Series From Hell.

The idea of these programmes is to show people having a thoroughly bad time as they encounter the barking mad, the downright bad, and the morally ugly. But such an ignoble exercise requires a figleaf to cover its shameful parts, so that we are not embarrassed by our own voyeurism. Thus spurious salience is used as the excuse for filling prime-time schedules with what might be called Schadenfreude TV (or "Glad I'm Not There").

The BBC version opened with the words, "throughout the cities and shires of Britain, neighbours at war!" The ITV equivalent of this was the almost identical "all over the country, neighbours are at each other's throats!" Now, in terms of geographical spread, these meaningless statements may be hard to argue with. But is it the case, as is implied, that many more of us than ever before are in a state of perpetual enmity with those who live next door? The BBC programme at least provided some headline figures. Over one in 14 of us report our neighbours to the police, we were told. But how was this statistic arrived at? Did it just divide the number of households in the country by the total number of calls? In which case it could mean practically anything. We weren't told. It was no part of the remit of this show to answer such dull questions as "should we really be worried by this?", let alone "and what might we do about it?"

Such questions are, of course, the province of good old unfashionable current affairs, now largely relegated to the scheduling ghettoes of Saturday evening and Sunday lunchtime, and in low-audience bits of the evening on BBC2, competing with the soaps. And most of it made with a fraction of the budgets available to docs.

But sometimes, it makes much with little. Tsar Boris: the Yeltsin Years (BBC2, Sat) was BBC correspondent Bridget Kendall's fascinating look at the vulgar populist who runs Russia, his tennis-club cronyism, the inside story of the coup that Yeltsin himself nearly instigated when he thought he might lose the 1996 elections, and why - against the odds - he has succeeded.

Less confident was Compass (BBC2, Mon), a new "high policy" series, the first of which was an uncompromising attempt to tell us what trouble we are in over pensions. Its presenter was Dr Ngaire Woods, an Oxford fellow, but we barely saw her. Instead we had 30 minutes of wallpaper pictures, interviews and dull graphics. What, I wondered, did stakeholder pensions have to do with the Docklands Light Railway?

The moral here is that if you have a star presenter, use her to tell the story and to connect with the viewer. Don't give us words about a pensions crisis over pictures of stippled water. The producer could do worse than look at Walden on Heroes (BBC2, Tues), in which Bwummie Bwian talks for 28 minutes without much hesitation, repetition or deviation. This week's hero was Churchill, whose wartime influence was brilliantly summed up: "He thought so well of us, it seemed shameful to disappoint him." The intriguing thing about Walden, however, is that occasional, twinkling, little secret smile. It always suggests that he somehow knows something to his own advantage. Like - for instance - nine and a quarter inches, thick and uncut.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum