Television Review

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The Independent Culture
JENNIFER PATERSON and Clarissa Dickson Wright aren't actually real, are they? Watching Two Fat Ladies: A Caribbean Christmas (BBC2), I was more convinced than ever that they are special suits animated by a couple of operators, in the manner of a pantomime horse. In this programme, Jennifer (the one with the look of permanent surprise) and Clarissa (the one with the Desperate Dan jawline) bombed about the Jamaican countryside in a Daktari-style jeep, complained endlessly about the heat, and offered some helpful cooking tips - the most interesting of which was the suggestion that we might try straining creamed coconut through a pair of old tights.

Not a pleasant idea, but then the Ladies have always traded enthusiastically on this kind of yuckiness. One of their principal enthusiasms is for butchery, and they never seem more happy than when they're preparing food which coughs up blood on the kitchen work surfaces. Any of last night's viewers wishing to see them perform their usual antics with offal had to be satisfied with their gleeful responses to a mournful-looking suckling pig. "What a fine piggy!" whooped Jennifer, as Clarissa placed it over a cooking pit in the garden. This intense interest in the jugged-hare end of the culinary spectrum is one of the reasons why they're such a grotesque novelty. As is their rather terrifying appearance. But it's not their untelegenic physiques which make their programmes such uncomfortable viewing. It's their forced camaraderie, that frisson of - well - hatred, which seems to shiver between them. Luckily, they tend to take it out on dumb animals rather than each other.

Aside from their seeming mutual contempt, the most notable thing about the Ladies' Caribbean Christmas was that they somehow managed to conduct it without really having to talk to any black people. True, they listened graciously to a market trader on the subject of squashes, and waved off their white hosts' black housekeeper with a relieved exclamation of "alone at last!" But their dinner guests were all white, and a polo team at that. I suppose their bizarre appeal relies on an aura of cranky right-wing snobbery, and this culinary division couldn't have been more apparent if the Ladies had chosen to do their show blacked-up like Al Jolson. Especially as Clarissa seemed to have a predilection for dodgy racial impersonation. "I done gonna jerk ma pork, man!" she chortled.

I wouldn't want to suggest, however, that the Two Fat Ladies' unreconstructed awfulness can never be amusing. At the polo club, Jennifer revealed that her father had been disfigured by a polo mallet - which provided them with an opportunity to mention some nasty variant on the game played with a dead goat, and, added Jennifer, "that terrifying thing where they had to play with a dead man's head". Clarissa knew what her colleague was on about. "The Mongols!" she exclaimed. "That's right, the Mongols!" breathed Jennifer, as though she'd just remembered that she went to school with them. I wonder if she meant the Berkshire or the Wiltshire Mongols?

If their drawling eccentricity is down to the cooking sherry, then it wasn't considered fit to mention in Smashed: This Bloke Walks into a Bar (C4), the latest in this absorbing season on alcohol abuse. The subject was comedians' reliance on drink, which, on the evidence of its impressive range of interviews, is endemic in the profession. Vomit of a Clown syndrome, if you like. Rhona Cameron was the only comic who seemed to be free of the desire to regularly become a dribbling drunken wreck. Bob Mortimer confessed that he and Vic Reeves were completely ratted during Comic Relief - and they played the clip to prove it. Jo Brand confessed that she drank for confidence, Roland Rivron that he drank to loosen up, and Arthur Smith that he drank to release his sense of bravado. However, it was the amateur video footage of about 30 popular comedians getting smashed at the Edinburgh Festival which really gave Tim Hopewell's film its atmosphere of seedy misery. Various well-known faces slurred through bits of Shakespeare, staggered about, crawled on the floor and took their clothes off in the street. And it's Perrier that sponsors the Festival's biggest comedy award. Now that is a joke.

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