TV Review

Apparently the Broadcasting Standards Council is worried about the humiliation visited on the participants in programmes such as Beadle's About (Sat ITV). What about the humiliation for the viewers, I say, those poor unfortunates who find that they have sat all the way through one of these insults to the brain, or, even worse, felt their lips twitch into a rictus of involuntary amusement? Reader, I am such a man, and my shame is fresh upon me. If we still had any malarial colonies, I would already be on my way to an up-river trading station to sweat my conscience for 20 years. But in the absence of such cauterising opportunity, confession will have to do. It happened during the practical joke in which six middle- managers found themselves on a training course. "You know how elephants sometimes go along holding on to the trunk of the elephant in front of them?" asked the trainer innocently, a question which was naturally a prelude to the men crawling round the floor pretending to be circus jumbos. No gullibility was involved here - the activity was positively humdrum by the standards of some real management courses - so one was laughing at the image, not the men involved. But I still felt ashamed when the smile was wiped off my face by the reappearance of the bearded beach-toy himself, rocking gently on his weighted base and smirking to the autocue.

There is nothing right about Beadle's About, from its bullying implication that you are a poor sport if you don't connive in your own embarrassment to the innocent humility of the targets selected. The Friday Night Armistice (BBC2), which knows how to wield a practical joke properly, selects people with power or fame for its mischief, and even then it occasionally falls flat, exposing nothing but the less-than-heinous fact that MPs can be long-suffering with importunate strangers. When they get it right it is because vanity or ambition has been used to lure the fly into the web. On Beadle's About, by contrast, the victims were proved guilty of being, respectively, conscientious employees; a courteous shop assistant and principled enough to walk away from a job that involved cheating people.

That last hoax involved a restau-rant which was feeding dog food to customers who had paid for goulash. Exactly the same nutritional principle can be seen at work in Man O' Man (ITV), a series which makes Beadle's About look like a Newsnight debate on budget deficits. It is so dispiritingly tasteless, in fact, that it has even defeated the undiscriminating appetite of the Saturday tea-time audience and has been shifted out of its original slot - a richly deserved humiliation. What happens in Man O'Man is almost too embarrassing to recount - in fact I had to put my head between my legs a couple of times while watching it before the nausea passed and I could grip a pen again. Ten young men line up to compete for the affections of a huge hen-party; they perform a series of tasks, and after each round losers are pushed into a swimming pool - after a bit of tediously elongated bump'n'grind by the resident hostesses (the show is an equal-opportunity humiliator). Their physical and mental defects are then raucously discussed by the audience, delivered from charity by the bumptiousness of the competitors and, one assumes, huge quantities of free alcohol. Chris Tarrant wanders around sucking up to the crowd's sense of its own naughtiness ("hurk, hurk - what are you lot like!") and occasionally attempting to lift the tone. He might as well try and raise the Titanic with a fishing rod.

"Nice use of the iambic pentameter, I thought," he said after one contestant had read out an excruciating self-penned poem. The studio audience sniffed the line for double-entendres and fell back in silent bemusement. You should watch it, if only to see how low television can sink - but spread yourselves out a bit if you do. The last thing I'd want to do is perk up the ratings.

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