Television Review

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The Independent Culture
LAST NIGHT, the third part of Channel 4's series Sex Bomb brought us up to the Eighties. Sexual diversity was all the rage during the reign of Our Lady of Finchley, and so it was time for this plod through the British bedroom to pull out the footage of Boy George twirling sedately in a sheet. An apparition which, we were told, helped "question the rules of conventional sexuality for the first time". Out too came the male strippers and City boys, all merrily flashing their wads. This, the programme sombrely informed us, was what life had been like in the 1980s.

Like many programmes of its pseudo-analytical kind, Sex Bomb subscribes to a popular concept known as "decade theory". Any TV series which divides itself into decades should be mistrusted, as it is liable simply to trawl through archives for the most familiar images and pretend that these sum up an era. But the world did not, at the end of 1979, send out subliminal messages saying "Greed is Good" and "Dye the Top of Your Hair Blond and Let it Stick Up Over a Headband". Life is not decade-aware.

But television is, of course, and this undoubtedly has an effect on life - so much so that, in a muddled sort of way, the 1980s did seem to have an awareness of what they represented, even while they were happening. The ex-yuppie on Sex Bomb, pleading in self-defence that "the Government said it was good to grab", sounded quite ridiculous. As if a human being was no more than a pathetic leaf, blown by a prevailing wind fanned by the media. Yet, at the time, it probably did feel a bit like that.

Nevertheless, Sex Bomb's unquestioning acceptance of every cliche about the 1980s was pretty lazy, and led it into some rather confused thinking. For example, in the debate about the fallout from the "sexual revolution", it apparently stands on the side of the liberals, yet it was pursing its lips like mad over the social revolutions effected by Thatcherism.

Ann Summers parties, at which women asserted their right to dress up as French maids, were tacitly applauded, but the poor old yuppie throwing his money away on "sexual adventures" was portrayed as a lost soul. This may be the current orthodoxy, but isn't that what a series like this should be challenging?

Ultimately, Sex Bomb is a bit of a po-faced bore, because it is centred on a culture completely focused on itself. Tiny mutations in lifestyle are presented as vast evolutionary shifts. Easy to imagine the joy, therefore, in spreading ones wings with David Attenborough's new series, The Life of Birds (BBC1), where self-regarding adulthood falls away and 150 million years go by in the flash of an eagle's eye.

The miracle of Attenborough is that, even when his series has been three years in the making, he always lets you feel the gasp of immediacy: a bee is between a bird's beak - we see its sting shooting into the air. In a remote New Zealand valley, Attenborough slowly pulled back a curtain of grass to reveal the nest of one of the rarest birds in the world, a Takahe - her brilliant red beak hidden fearfully in the earth. Reverently, respectfully, Attenborough let the curtain fall on her: like someone who knows his place, and the place of his species in the wider scheme.