Television Reviews: The Trouble with Beckham and Sex Bomb

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The Independent Culture
BY THE time you read this, the headlines on the other back page will tell you if Glenn Hoddle's reselection of David Beckham was the decision of a genius or a turnip. Channel 5's fortuitously-timed The Trouble with Beckham was screened immediately after the Luxembourg game. This excessively leisurely 45 minutes (it felt more like 90) traced the Essex boy's path to Man United and England - before reminding us what happened on 30 June when the national squad was reduced to 10 men and the world came to an abrupt end. So far so boring. Various folk were wheeled on to express sympathy for the pressure this had placed on the young player. The interviewees were an odd bunch: Alan Shearer and Bobby Robson you could understand - but Gary Rhodes?

Beckham has subsequently endured the sort of reception normally reserved for the courtroom appearances of blanketed child-murderers. The impotent rage of England football supporters has manifested itself in obscene chants and death threats, and many newspapers have encouraged the hate campaign. Even The Daily Telegraph called him a ``look-at-me, what-a-lad, loadsamoney, sex-and-shopping, fame-schooled, daytime-TV, over-coiffed twerp", egging on the envious thuggery of a generation of under-educated young men.

There but for the grace of God, of course, goes David Beckham himself. The difference between the young men on the terraces and the young man on the pitch lies solely in Beckham's natural gifts and the discipline that has developed them. A prodigy at eight, he was spotted by a scout from his beloved Manchester United at 11, and by 16 he was leaving school to join the youth team, filling in a careers form on which he could spell neither "professional" nor "footballer". One talent had been nurtured at the expense of all the others.

They do things differently abroad, and the film took us to Ajax in Holland where young footballers continue formal schooling. English clubs have copied these methods; boys are now dubbed "scholars" rather than "trainees" and every effort is made to develop their potential in all areas. If only the same care was taken with all teenage boys.

Sir Gerald Nabarro, the late Tory windbag and moustache-fancier, would probably have blamed the permissive society which he predicted would lead to evil, misery and poverty. Channel 4's new series, alluringly entitled Sex Bomb, spent its first hour looking at the freedoms supposedly conferred by the increasing availability of the contraceptive pill, which coincided rather neatly with the increasing availability of dolly birds. "You hadn't seen knees before in the street and now not only did you see knees, you saw glimpses of thighs..." But did it make them happy? Well, the guys seemed to enjoy it quite a lot, but the dolls were less sure.

Although the Pill genuinely liberated married women (who would otherwise be doomed to a life of unplanned pregnancies), it also licensed cheap, commitment-free sex. Which sounds nice, but often involved inept couplings with selfish young men in tight flowery trousers whose long-term aim was to marry a virgin. One Sixties survivor was honest enough to admit her regrets at parting so casually with her virginity: "If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have hung on for years." Another neatly summarised the high price of free love: "You were in a relationship and the man wasn't." A higher price still was paid by the 20,000 teenagers made pregnant in 1968, most of whom were obliged to give the fruits of their sexual liberation up for adoption.

Some did manage to make it pay. Literally. Shameless slapper and convicted vice queen Janie Jones (who seems to have chosen her look in about 1962 and stuck to it) came to fame wearing topless evening wear. Helen Buckingham, head of the English Collective of Prostitutes, soon got wise to the fact that women were getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop and began charging for her favours: "One was already a prostitute as far as the men were concerned - it was about time we got paid for it. You get much better sex with the ones who pay, and far more respect." Tarts apart, all but one of the groovy chicks looked back on their zipless youth with resentment and regret. They had managed to score, but they were still the losers.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away

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