Grace Dent on TV: Celebrity Big Brother, Channel 5

Liz Jones is a beacon of normality when cloistered with Dappy and co   

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The Independent Culture

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. A time to throw out the tinsel, tree and that voluminous holiday TV guide – which promised so much fun and delivered so little – and hibernate with January’s crop of fresh television.

Not that the Christmas TV was truly terrible. Yes, the festive Downton helping went on so long I needed a leg wax by the final ad break. Yes, Still Open All Hours was an hour-long joke about tinned anchovies skittered around exposition about characters last seen 25 years ago. Yes, Gangsta Granny saw Robbie Williams reduced even further in star status to a hammy bit part in a rather dry, never-ending CBeebies-style drama. And don’t start me on the plodding, growingly obscure Hootenanny – those buggers should all work on New Year’s Eve and deliver an actual live atmosphere or not do it at all.

Still, none of this was awful, but the act of watching TV in January is simply better. Shows like the new Nigella Lawson venture, The Taste, or the forthcoming “celebrities do incredibly dangerous winter olympic sports” show The Jump, or even the surprisingly funny new Birds of a Feather, lend themselves to a mindless night in. Saturday on ITV had the brain-lite but lol-heavy combination of Splash! – Gemma from The Only Way is Essex and Michaela Strachan propelling themselves off diving boards – followed by an all-new sixth series of Take Me Out with Paddy McGuinness.

Take Me Out – the show where 30 single ladies battle for one wazzock with a party trick, or even better, a video message from his mam – is the greatest ITV Saturday night format of the past decade. Behind its big brassy Benidorm-and-alcopop exterior, it is slick and sharply written with a throbbing heart. Okay, yes, I concede that the ladies on this new series have discovered the key to success is simply heavily insinuating to the wazzock that he will get a hand job, or more, if they get chosen for the special sunshine holiday on the Isle of Fernandos. But love is a battlefield, the great philosopher Pat Benatar once said, and we all choose our weapons. 

Better than all of this for the long, cold first weeks of January has been the new influx in Celebrity Big Brother, which is a show no one admits to watching until pressed – when they admit that they have it series-linked on their Sky+ box, and in fact spent last night watching Evander Holyfield disco-dancing and Lionel Blair blowing an intergalactic space-trumpet to lure aliens to Borehamwood, while Lee Ryan from Blue wanked in the loo with no camera, then returned to tell columnist Liz Jones and Linda Nolan that he is, indeed, a very deep and misunderstood person.

All of the above events happened this week and more. This is a house so replete with jarring personalities that by Wednesday, Jim Davidson was coming across as the most reasonable and affable person in there. Luisa Zissman, ex-Apprentice runner-up, wants everyone to know that she has attended sex parties and has had lots of threesomes and is very bisexual. Did everyone hear that? She wants you to know this. But she doesn’t care what you think! She doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her as she’s so liberated and wild. She’s just telling you all of this as the moment the gaze of attention leaves her, she withers like an over-watered spider plant.

Same too for American model Jasmine Waltz, who is billed as a homewrecker, although it’s never specified who she has actually slept with. In fact, we all realise now that she’s been booked as she’s one of those Americans who will take her top off and roll around on the floor, loudly compelling Lionel Blair to “fingerbang” his own bumhole after around two units of alcohol.

I can only imagine these relatively pocket-friendly bookings were made after a massive wodge of the budget was handed to Liz Jones. Much is said about the supposed daftness of Liz Jones, but this is a woman who knows her value and is not afraid to ask for it. Most things one will find written about Liz are penned by other writers who would never have the nerve to totter into Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail’s office and ask for enough money to keep 17 ponies and 87 cats in a number of residences across Britain. Inside the house, Liz has been calm and intuitive and has known exactly when to listen and when to shut up, while Lee Ryan gibbers about saving the badgers and his sadness over the fact that the glamour model Casey – whom he’s been in bed with, talked about taking on holiday and then dumped within 36 hours – now wants him to suffer one of those North Korean-style leaving parties where you die slowly, naked in a pit of dogs.

On Tuesday, the sour Nolan sister led a group attack on Jim Davidson during some non-important small talk about bath towels. “I don’t want you ALL to not like Jim...” she said, gathering the bored hyenas together to discuss the terrible situation. Jim walked into the middle of this, listened, shook his head slowly and left.  “Oh that’s right WALK AWAY!” shouted Linda. It’s not often one gets to sympathise with Jim, but this was the chance.

As this goes to press, I am firmly Team Dappy. He’s not got much between his ears, but we’ve all seen the pictures floating around the internet. He’s just got a special something which puts him way ahead. I really love January. Outdoors is for idiots.