Last Night's Television: Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC1
Hole In The Wall, iPlayer
Greg Dyke on NYE Bevan, BBC4
Thursday 25 September 2008
I love iPlayer. I was having a little difficulty mustering interest in Jodie Kidd's ancestry, the subject of this week's Who Do You Think You Are? So I stuck it on pause and decided to catch up with Hole in the Wall instead, the BBC's new Saturday-tea-time game show, which began last weekend, but got nudged below the radar by Merlin. And, frankly, I'm very grateful to the BBC for preserving the evidence of its own inexplicable folly in this readily accessible form. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. A few television programmes are excellent, a larger number are good, and the vast majority are mediocre to poor. But it's only a few that qualify as memorably atrocious; programmes so cheesy and bereft of virtue that they will return through the ages as a regurgitated belch of "what were they thinking?"
The format – bought in from a Japanese television company – is simple. Micro-celebrities dressed in silver Lycra attempt to contort themselves into the shape that's been pre-cut through an advancing wall of polystyrene. If they don't manage it, it sweeps them into a swimming pool, at which point they shriek a lot and some bloke with a tabloid bellow makes laboured puns while they run a slow-motion replay. Dale Winton then shouts the programme's ingenious catchphrase – "Bring on the wall!" – and they do it again with a different-shaped aperture. That's it. After a minute's viewing, you're dazed and disbelieving, after five, you're checking to make sure that you're not hallucinating and after 10, you'll have lost the power of speech.
What's truly impressive about Hole in the Wall, given the inadvertent way in which human interest will contaminate almost any piece of broadcasting, is the complete exclusion of anything that might be classed as diverting. It isn't interesting when the celebrities fail and get dunked (which happens nine times out of 10). And it isn't interesting on the rare occasions when they succeed. Nor is it funny, unless you're at that age (about two years old) when people falling over backwards is the very epitome of wit. But even a two-year-old, I think, would lose interest quite quickly and turn to the nearest cot toy for a bit of intellectual challenge. And the only plausible explanation I can offer for its presence on our screens is as an act of calculated sabotage. My theory is that Peter Fincham, realising his head was going to roll over the Queengate affair, got one last commission in before he went. Like the sacked employee who pushes a piece of smoked haddock down the back of a radiator, he wanted a revenge that would ripen slowly. If he did do it, it worked brilliantly.
Returning to Jodie Kidd, I found her ancestors a little more intriguing than I'd initially feared. She's the great- granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook, for one thing, though Who Do You Think You Are? sensibly set him aside as a known quantity and tracked back through Kidd's great-grandmother to reveal Sir Rowland Hodge lurking in the genealogical shrubbery, a self-made ship-building magnate who mysteriously moved from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Kent in 1921. Kidd, or rather the programme's researchers, discovered that he'd had to flee town after being prosecuted for food hoarding during the war. Investigatingwhy this scoundrel had been given a baronetcy, Kidd turned up two fascinating letters in Lloyd George's papers: a note from the king's secretary noting his majesty's dismay and "disgust" that Hodge had been honoured and an earlier letter from one of Churchill's assistants warning the prime minister that approaches had been made about buying a peerage for Hodge, and that he should be wary if his name came up again. It was an epistle that did not appear to have been received in quite the spirit it was sent.
In Canada, following up the Beaverbrook bloodline, Kidd also found out that a grandfather of multiple greatness nearly died after his older brother had gone mad with a revolver, killing another brother and himself and burning the family homestead to the ground. I suppose you can find flagrant criminals in any family if you spread the genealogical net wide enough, but to have two such flamboyantly black sheep in such direct line of descent seemed a little greedy to me. Perhaps hoarding is in the DNA.
One of Beaverbrook's bêtes noires, Aneurin Bevan, was the subject of a discursive profile by Greg Dyke for BBC 4, somewhat bluntly called Greg Dyke on Nye Bevan. It was avowedly a deromanticising project, which touched on Bevan's self-defeating bloody-mindedness as well as honouring his astonishing effectiveness as minister of health and minister of housing. The thought did occur that Greg Dyke might have his own motives for covert sabotage, but he held his hand and delivered an interesting programme that went into the credit column.
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