Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE TRUTH about soaps revealed in The Truth about Soaps (ITV) is that there is nothing remotely new to say abut them. It's probably as well to admit up front that immunity to soap opera, in all its myriad forms, is one of the few incontrovertible certainties in my life, along with the inevitability of death, the wondrousness of Ingrid Bergman and the primacy among chocolate bars of the Curly-Wurly. But that only goes to prove how epically bad this programme contrived to be: it couldn't implant fresh information even in the brain of a recalcitrant ignoramus.

This is not necessarily a flaw of the format, even though its jerky jumpcuts make an assumption about the attention-span of its audience which is precisely the opposite of that made by soaps. I belong to that sector of the population who know too much about football, and I still found it possible to retrieve the odd nugget from The Truth about Footballers. But the cat is already out of the bag with soaps and their stars: the front page is routinely held for them, whenever one turns out to be an alcoholic, or an ex-con who did time for murder. (Yes, the above culprits appeared here, and no, none of them talked about their tribulations.)

The symbiosis between soaps and tabloids was illustrated by a video diary of that fleshy beauty from Emmerdale who has just started presenting You've Been Framed (and has thus put me in the unusual bind of finding myself pining for Jeremy Beadle). Her day at the office includes a paper stop on her chauffeur-driven way to the set, where she checks the red-tops for stories about herself. We needn't dwell on the monstrous vanity that daily habit implies, but merely note that the insatiable thirst for soaps has granted newspapers an ever-renewable means of shoring up circulation.

A pallid tour of the soaps' celebrity fans and its besieged sets was never going to do much more than reheat innocuous tittle-tattle. For the benefit of visiting Uranians, the documentary's shop-soiled findings may as well be recorded here. Unlike their characters, actors are not always cockneys/ Lancastrians/farmers. Some fans fill the void of their vacuous existence by obsessively recording and databasing soap plotlines. And the sets are usually made of reinforced plywood. Not unlike programmes like this.

I note with some trepidation that the format's next outing is The Truth about Sex.

The Shop (BBC1), a satisfyingly frank ramble around Selfridges, has now found its stars and is sticking with them: the camp salesman in Shirts and Ties, the vaudevillian furniture-buyer from Italy, the two larger- than-life female store detectives. Not long from now, every big institution will vet job applicants for tele-friendliness, pending the day the docusoap camera crew arrives. This week a presentation fascist turned up in the Ralph Lauren concession to tell staff how to fold jeans correctly. An employee rolled his eyeballs and confided that "big egos have to be sated: it's fashion, darling". He may one day be able to tell The Truth about Docusoaps how not long afterwards he was back on the job market himself.