In a purple Puffa-style jacket with fur trim and a white belt adorned with glitter, Stacey, 19, looks a bit overdressed for a visit to the sexual health clinic. Then again, he's got rather more confidence than most people might have if they were seeking treatment for something suspicious on their genitals, especially if they were doing it on camera. "You've got no dick!" he hoots to one of his mates on the way in. "You've got no nuts!" Then he settles in to the waiting room, apparently unconcerned, to prepare for what might easily be a very uncomfortable checkup.
"You know when you've got that burning sense of feeling," Stacey explains, no cracks detectable in his curated swagger. And he tells a member of staff that he insists on having a female clinician examine his penile suppuration. "What does he think," he asks, "I'm Elton John or someone?"
Welcome to the West London Centre for Sexual Health, where Stacey, if you take the new series of The Hospital's word for it, is an indicative part of something called "Britain's sexual timebomb". To Stacey and his ilk, we're supposed to think, STDs – so long as they're treatable – are a badge of honour. The first series of the show came in for some criticism for a sensationalist approach, and anyone who felt that way is unlikely to be mollified by the opening of the second run, in which one doctor solemnly explained that "for the first time we've got a generation of kids who are going to die before their parents".
When members of the medical profession are spouting such decontexualised nonsense unchallenged, you do begin to suspect that you're not getting the complete picture. The problem, of course, is that even by agreeing to appear on the show in the first place, you're already in a pretty self-selecting group: the bravado inherent in such a decision means that the sample is inherently skewed away from the shamefaced and the chaste. (It wasn't a coincidence that the patient you felt you got to know the best was the person with HIV whose face you never saw, whose words were broadcast over footage of her fingers and fringe.) In that context, the programme's thesis that adolescents everywhere are at it without the slightest thought to the consequences just seemed like a bit of a sham.
Even within this highly specific group, a number of cracks appeared in the facade. Once in the consulting room, Stacey's studied nonchalance melted away. When he gave a blood sample, he appeared positively petrified. Admittedly, not every subject followed quite such a tidy route to contraceptive redemption: when Shannon, a particularly flighty pill-dodger, was finally coaxed into turning up for a contraceptive implant, she immediately ruined the moment by employing her most Vicky Pollard tone to demand whether anyone had credit so she could call her mum. Still, the balance in favour of total panic – the unchallenged causal link between hair straighteners at 15 and chlamydia – is much less pronounced than the programme's tone would seem to imply.
The clinic's staff didn't appear to be to blame for any of this. Led by the unflappable Rachael Jones, their Errol Morris-style straight-to-camera interviews were among the highlights of the hour, and even as patients crapped on the carpet, they remained exactly as our nearly religious reverence for NHS staff would have you expect: moderate, sensible, utterly capable. Their professional life, there seemed little doubt, was regularly hair-raising, and it's hardly their fault it's been made to stand for something it isn't. "I've had lots of guys thinking they can ask me out after I've treated their genital warts," said nurse Steph McMillan, in the show's absolute highlight. "I suppose you'd get that in any job."
The Games That Time Forgot had no such designs on unearned significance. It was basically an absurdist romp through extinct sports of varying degrees of historical veracity, relying wholly for its charm on the considerable talents of its progenitor, Alex Horne. Blessed with the great comic good fortune to look and sound like a young David Bellamy, Horne took us through jingling, where a player shaking bells runs away from a blindfolded pack; quintain, or jousting on foot; and, most prominently, cricket on horseback.
The whole thing was kind of ridiculous, obviously, and if Horne and his cohorts weren't so likeable you'd have switched off within seconds. The concept felt like it would be more at home as a weekly segment on a more varied show than standing alone. As it was, it was a bit like sitting next to a particularly charming drunk on public transport: you were continuously aware that your time was being wasted, but so long as you're headed in the same direction you're content to let him rattle on.
Would I have watched to the end if I hadn't been reviewing it? Not if I had anything pressing to do, like examine my genital suppuration. Actually, though, that would have been a real shame, because from the embers of a totally overburdened conceit, Horne found something lovely, somehow managing to stage a match of horseback cricket that was endearing, funny – horse before wicket! – and even genuinely exciting. I don't intend to take up horseback cricket any time soon, and I would say that Horne should be warned against pushing his material quite so close to its limits in future; somehow, though, he pulled it off, and I'd certainly be happy to see him again. It was Henry Blofeld, roped in for commentary duties, who put it best: you could cut the atmosphere with a spoon!Reuse content