Last Night's TV - Sandhurst, BBC4; This Is Jinsy, Sky Atlantic; Made in Chelsea, E4
Young guns show plenty of polish
"I'm a bit wet, really. It's just who I am." Now, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but I suspect – in the light of this particular observation – that Sandhurst might be the wrong place for would-be officer Chapman. Never mind that he was caught wearing his belt loose earlier. Or that he managed to cut himself open on his own kit. It may be a wild bit of generalisation, but the ability to recognise one's own wetness is usually a precursor to life outside the Army. Isn't it? Oddly, it took a while for this to dawn on our young recruit, who lasted a whole fortnight before eventually packing it in. When he did go, it was all rather poignant. He'd dreamed of being an officer, he said, because he used to watch war films with his dad.
Sandhurst, it has to be said, was riveting viewing. It was in part the sheer horribleness of it all, like a trip to the strictest boarding school in the world, what public school would be like if it were run by the Demon Headmaster (this is not that far fetched; the cadets themselves refer to it as "Hogwarts with guns"). But it's also just fascinating, seeing what goes on. How do you prepare someone for war? By waking them up at 5.30 each morning to sing that national anthem? After belting out the last bars of "God Save the Queen", they're told to drink the contents of their water bottles. Inexplicably, one misguided soul assumed it was some kind of competition and gulped it down in one go, only to vomit it all back up again moments later.
There were lots of lessons in marching (apparently, rather harder than it looks; also, has to be done at all times – as in, you go to see your captain for a quick chat about, I don't know, boot polish, and you have to march all the way there). And numerous exercises in Self-Reliance. There's a class on How to Use a Bayonet, where our wannabes were introduced to the suctionless knife (excellent for thrusting in and out of an enemy's chest) and a lot – a lot – of press-ups. Throughout, little speckles of humanity shone through. Like the moment a pair of room-mates realised, three days in, that they still didn't know each other's first names, so accustomed had they become to barking surnames at each other. And, more movingly, the day that a young Vernon Kay-alike, Darrock, attended the funeral of a friend who died while on a tour of duty. It was, said Major Max Lytle, an inevitability that "some of the cadets here will die in the line of duty". Amid the kitbags and the circuits, it was a sobering chunk of reality.
The opening episode of This Is Jinsy has, in fact, aired before: featuring David Tennant as an overly camp television game-show host, and revolving around life on the tiny, other-worldly island of Jinsy, it was broadcast in March of last year as a pilot on BBC. Now it's back, as a full-blown (but sadly, after episode one, Tennant-less) series on Sky Atlantic.
The gist, broadly, is this: Jinsy (population 971) is stuck somewhere in the 1970s, governed by Arbiter Maven – whose nasal hairs offer insights into the future – and populated by means of a random televised "marriage lottery". And, Tennant or no, it is brilliantly done. The world that's been created is genuinely surreal, with its televised punishment round-ups, bizarre clothing and odd religion, which sees residents don cupboards in a mistaken attempt to welcome the messiah. It's part Yellow Submarine, part Hitchhiker's Guide, part League of Gentlemen. Written by its two stars, Justin Chubb and Chris Bran, it offers a slice of oddball humour quite unlike anything else to be found.
There's something very reassuring, I think, about The Only Way Is Essex's ability to trounce all its competition. It happened at the Baftas, when the TOWIE cast, resplendent in self-tan, collected the award for audience's choice. And it has happened in the reality TV stakes, too. For all its slinky dresses and velvet ropes, Made in Chelsea just hasn't caught on in the same way. There's no Caggie on panel shows and magazine covers, à la Amy Childs. There's no posh version of the vajazzle. Call me soft, but it offers a faint swell of pride to know that the viewing public would rather tune in to the adventures of a beautician and her well-waxed crew than a diamond heir and (as of last night) the daughter of Sir Philip Green. We're a down-to-earth bunch, us. Anyway, last night I think I clocked Chelsea's problem. It's the way they talk. Not the rounded vowels and plummy tones, that's fine. It's the endless droning monotone whichmakesallthewordsblurintoonesoporificburrr. That, and the fact that the people are awful.
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