Those of you who have been gazing at the small screen for as long as I have might remember a series in the mid-1970s called The Big Time, which gave ordinary people a shot at being celebrities, training them up and then letting them loose. I remember one woman getting to present Nationwide, and being pretty good at it, to the astonishment of the Nationwide regulars, whose Colgate smiles did not quite hide their collective chagrin that a housewife from Aldershot could with comparative ease do the same job as them.
Out of My Depth is The Big Time in reverse, giving celebrities a shot at being ordinary people. The Small Time, if you like. Which doubtless says something profound about the way our culture has evolved these past 35 years. The years have long gone when the adventures of Joe or Jane Bloggs could drive an hour's primetime telly. In The Big Time, typically, a midwife might have trained to be a TV presenter. In Out of My Depth, Amanda Holden trained to be a midwife, an altogether trickier equation, in which the sunny smile, the solemn empathetic expression and the merry tinkle of laughter, at all of which Holden excels, take you only so far.
I should add here that I am a fan of Amanda Holden. For one thing, we support the same football team, Everton, which is not on its own enough to blind me to her frailties (after all, Derek Hatton's an Evertonian too), but does make me inclined to like her. And she did nothing to betray my faith here; indeed, it was rather brave of her to risk looking irredeemably shallow, or in her more succinct words, to risk making "a complete arse of myself".
The concern that she might make an arse of herself stemmed from an understandable belief, no doubt encouraged by the director, producer, cameraman, make-up person, chauffeur and everyone else involved in the exercise to get her to West Middlesex University Hospital, that she was the star of the show. Somewhat disingenuously, her midwifery mentors insisted that this was not, in fact, the case. "She really does have to forget Amanda Holden the presenter and become Amanda Holden the midwife," said one. "She's not the centre of attention, the woman's the centre of attention," ventured another. Well, up to a point. But the camera crew weren't there to record a woman giving birth. They were there to record Amanda Holden assisting a woman giving birth, a slight but significant difference that was lost neither on Holden nor on us, while the woman in the throes of an agonising labour, Kelly, was beyond caring either way.
Whether Out of My Depth will go on to become a series, I don't know, but in a way, midwifery was a daft place to start, because it emphasised the flaws of the concept. Holden completed her five-week basic training to general satisfaction, and had Kelly's birth been straightforward we might well have seen her getting properly stuck in. But it wasn't, and she didn't. A consultant obstetrician was summoned to deliver the baby, which then had to be resuscitated. Through all of this, Holden was roughly as much use as chocolate forceps, scarcely less out of her depth at the end of the show than she had been at the start. "The most important thing is that she's got a healthy baby," she concluded, and there was no arguing with that, but it did make me wonder whether I had just wasted an hour of my life, and Holden five weeks of hers. Admittedly, she was moved to tears by what she had just seen, but watching Everton can do that to you, too.
There was more poignancy at the end of the 10th episode of Life, not least because this remarkable series is now over and it is hard to see how natural history camerawork can ever get better, although I think I said that of the last wildlife epic narrated by David Attenborough, and the one before that.
Last night, he talked us through primates, and it was harder than ever not to anthropomorphise. The huge gang of baboons having a massive scrap on an arid Ethiopian plain resembled nothing so much, just to keep the football theme going, as fans of West Ham United and Millwall going ape on the streets of east London. And please don't write in; I know that's a terrible insult to the baboons.
As for the Japanese macaques sitting in a steaming pool near the top of a snow-capped volcano, you'll see exactly the same expressions of rapture in the hot tub at Champneys. But you can go too far with this anthropomorphising lark. My 11-year-old son reckoned that the gorilla in the Congo basin was a ringer for the one in the advert who plays the drums on "In the Air Tonight". I wasn't sure whether to be proud of his observational skills, or sad that his view of the natural world has been skewed by a combination of Phil Collins and Cadbury's Dairy Milk.Reuse content