Television: I wish I'd been as gripped as Kinsey

Andrew Sachs is the narrator of The Sexual Century (ITV) and just about everything else. You name it, he's narrated it. I know because I find programme credits increasingly unmissable, and actual programmes more and more missable. In fact, through careful deployment of the remote control unit, it is just about possible to enjoy the credits without having to sit through the boring stuff that comes before. And as fellow credits enthusiasts will attest, Sachs is to the documentary voiceover what Ken Morse is to the rostrum camera. His perfectly modulated vowels have wrapped themselves around choking children and spawning salmon, around harassed hoteliers and cagey caribou. The man can even cope with those occasional scripts that are alliteration-free.

The Sexual Century, disappointingly, does not offer much on the alliteration front. On the other hand, it is full of magnificent platitudes. Whopping great duck-billed platitudes. For example, we were told that, in Victorian times, the British upper-classes screwed around constantly, while the middle- and lower-classes were sexually repressed. Cue the old one about shapely piano legs being covered up, lest they offend genteel middle-class sensibilities.

The Sachs voice operated effortlessly, but the words needed work. In the 1920s, Berlin "was the sexual engine of Europe". A nice image, but dangerously close to being completely meaningless. Then there was the sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who discovered in later life that he was homosexual. At Berkeley, Sachs solemnly added, "9,000 people were gripped by him". Either Kinsey had a startling sexual appetite, or more care should have been taken with the script. The clips, by contrast, were fabulous. We saw, for example, a turn-of-the-century anti-masturbation suit which one day, God willing, will turn up on The Antiques Roadshow. "It is something of a family heirloom," a sweet old lady will say, "and I rather hoped you could explain its original purpose."

So The Sexual Century had its moments. In fact I learnt something of considerable personal interest. Before we were blessed with the joyous encumbrance of children, my wife and I spent a romantic holiday driving through New England in the fall, and wound up at a backwoods kind of place called Rangeley, Maine. There we hired a tiny four-seater plane, with pilot, and rather alarmingly flew through a violent snowstorm, which was followed by an extraordinarily vivid rainbow. Anyway, I now find that a German immigrant called Reich set up a celebrated sex research institute in, of all places, Rangeley, Maine. And one of Reich's theories was that orgasmic energy could influence weather patterns. Poppycock? I think not. Not that I am under any illusions, of course, but I do recall two honeymooning couples staying in the same motel.

Sorry to be frivolous but The Sexual Century demands it. It has intellectual pretensions yet the stark fact is that sex sells, whether as one of those cheap ball-point pens which reveal a naked woman when turned upside-down, or as a lavish five-part documentary series. Consequently, there is as much titillation in The Sexual Century as in most post-watershed dramas. After all, what was the point of giving up News at Ten if not to replace Trevor McDonald with a nipple or two?

I hope the series improves. Part one rattled simplistically through the careers of various "sex pioneers" - how wonderful to be described as a sex pioneer, and what delusions of deity it must have conferred - lingering to detail their own sexual oddities. Havelock Ellis liked to watch women urinate. And I hardly dare tell you about Kinsey. The programme interviewed one of his researchers, incidentally, a respectable old man with the fine name of Clarence Tripp. "I had a little dab of animal intercourse in my history as a child," he said, in much the same casually boastful manner as one might mention that one used to do a spot of canoeing. Kinsey, he added, "was very interested in that". I'm not surprised. So was I. It was a showstopper. But, brutally, the show went on.

Having watched the credits with my usual zeal, I can tell you that The Sexual Century is a Canadian co-production and owes its existence, in part, to the Ontario Film and Television Fund Program. Or OFTFP, which sounds like a watchdog body for dyslexics. Now I am on dangerous ground because dyslexia is no laughing matter; indeed, the gravity of the condition has been underlined by a Channel 4 season. Just as you know a news story is big when Kate Adie pops up in her fatigues, so a Channel 4 season conveys the message that if you didn't take this particularly seriously before, you should now.

I watched only one programme, Dyslexic Criminals. It was poorly titled, for what I expected was the revelation that certain well-known criminals were dyslexic, perhaps that Al Capone could barely spell his name, or that "Mad" Frankie Fraser would never have got collared for such-and-such a robbery if he had not taken so long to read `Beware of the Dog'. In fact, the programme focused on an experiment, conducted at a Young Offenders' Institution near Edinburgh, which established that dyslexia was far more prevalent there than in society at large. So the message was clear. If dyslexia is not diagnosed, which in deprived areas it rarely is, then children are written off as plain thick and alienated at school. This leads to truancy, delinquency and, more often than not, jail sentences.

What the message failed to consider, of course, was the right-wing line that these teenagers were innately a bad lot, or at any rate that social conditioning would have guided them towards crime, whether or not they were dyslexic. Nevertheless, there was an irresistible optimism about the experiment's findings, reflected in the fixed grins of the two educational psychologists whose pet project it was. Let's hope that it leads somewhere. Since I first added potassium sulphide to hydrochloric acid on my unfaltering journey towards an E in O-level chemistry, I have been of the cynical conviction that experiments rarely do.

Still, optimism is a great thing, and Anna and Paul have it in spades. Literally so, for they invited their wedding guests to give them trees. "Planting a tree is about having faith in the future and that's what marriage is about," said Paul, which would have sounded pious in anyone else, but somehow went perfectly with his bicycle clips. This was Wedding Lists (BBC2), the first in a five-part series called Seeking Pleasure which, according to last week's Radio Times, is about taste, identity and anthropology. In fact, it is about class. Pure and simple. But class is a dread word in television these days, no matter that it is still the underlying theme in nine out of 10 documentaries.

Some people reject football because there is far too much of it, lumping together the tedious goalless draw with the 4-3 spectacular. There's a similar tendency to dismiss all "observational" documentary series, good and bad. Wedding Lists, in fact, was a gem, edited with style and wit. If only it had come clean - that it was actually an elegant disquisition on class division. Were we really expected to swallow some guff about taste and identity, with one couple compiling their list at Argos, another at Harrods?

But then television does make unreasonable demands of us. Channel 5, for example, expects us to sit through yet another series on police pursuits, this time called Chopper Coppers. I watched programme one and, frankly, when you've seen one helicopter chasing joyriders through a built-up area, you've seen them all. The alarming truth of the matter, though, is that this series might just as easily have wound up on BBC1, only with Andrew Sachs narrating, rather than Jamie Theakston.


Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower