Last Night's TV: The Taking of Prince Harry/Channel 4
Never Mind the Buzzcocks/BBC2
Friday 22 October 2010
With churning inevitability, The Taking of Prince Harry has the pundits in a lather. The latest in a mini-string of Channel 4 shockumentaries, last night's 90-minute flight of imagination showed the hypothetical kidnapping of the Queen's better-looking grandson (snigger), playing out the drama with interjections from experts in the field of... well, royal kidnapping.
It's all in very bad taste, if you ask the Daily Mail. And The Sun, and The Mirror. And maybe they're right – in fact, they probably are – though having sat through the full 90 minutes, it's difficult to feel very much at all. Aside, that is, from a vague sense of relief that it's over.
It's a shame, because it could have been so different. The actual documentary part was pretty good. It wouldn't even have had to be specific to Harry; the sheer reality of hostage-taking is sufficiently unknown as to warrant examination.
To wit: did you know that there are some 15 hostage-takings a week in Afghanistan? Overwhelmingly, kidnappers want money, though they're not averse to a bit of political bargaining. The British Government, of course, "does not negotiate with terrorists", but others do. Like the Japanese, who pay through the nose, making them among the most sought-after kidnapees in the world. The Germans, too, and the Italians, have been known to capitulate. The French, on this, are similarly suspicious.
Not that it's illegal to pay ransom. On the contrary: private companies do, regularly. Channel 4 was accused of paying up to free journalist Sean Langan when he was taken. The Government, however, won't. Not even if your blood runs blue – indeed, were Prince Harry to be taken they'd be even less likely to pay, for fear of setting a bad example. What they do is talk, very, very softly. Negotiators are prized for their temperance, in contrast to the hard-talking, straight-shooting heroes of celluloid imagining. Speaking of which: the drama.
Why do they do that? Interrupt a perfectly interesting documentary with suspenseless snippets of reconstruction. It's like watching Crimewatch, but elevated to a whole new (though no more interesting) level of celebrity and international law. Alone, both drama and documentary would warrant watching. As it was, we seemed to have, if not the worst of both worlds, then at least the half-arsed of both worlds.
Anyway, it wasn't difficult spotting Harry. Glowing with ruddy good-breeding, giving out a mayday call from his spiralling helicopter, his voice occupies the kind of other-world plummyness that is so uniquely aristo. He isn't, of course, the first royal to have gone to war: George VI, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Andrew have all been glimpsed in fatigues. Crucially, though, their battles took place within the rulebook of the Geneva Convention. A Taliban-occupied Afghanistan is quite a different prospect.
Our actors played out every possible scenario: after being taken, Harry was sold on to a second militia. With British recruits in their ranks, his cover – "Henry" – was soon rumbled. Well, not that soon. It took a fair bit of haven't-you-been-on-telly-ing before the penny dropped. It's a curious scenario, no doubt, and probably one worth examining. As for the taste question; well, at least he survived.
There was life before Simon Amstell, though Never Mind the Buzzcocks doesn't seem to know it. A full series after the catty, facetious quiz host left to write and star in Grandma's House, programme-makers are still fumbling around without a replacement.
Instead, they have stuck with a rota of guest-hosts who, if not the most adept at cracking jokes, at least offer punchlines for some. The concept worked last series: Amstell was so strong in his role that a revolving door created a pleasing sense of differentiation. By now, though, they should have settled on their candidate. No longer novel, the post-Amstell gimmick just seems like a compromise. Which, most of the time, it is.
Last night, particularly so. Mark Ronson – a previous contestant on the programme – took centre stage, offering a (fairly) amusing line about his hair (recently peroxided a ghostly white-blond, it boasts, observed one contestant, an uncanny resemblance to the style favoured by Tintin). Aside from the opener, he wasn't up for much. Not his fault; he's not a comedian.
The team captains did rather better: Phill Jupitus is still there, alongside newer arrival Noel Fielding. One of the big successes of the post-Amstell era has been Fielding's recruitment. Not just because he is hilarious – which he is – but also because he brings in some of the funniest guests. The format dictates that each team captain brings a guest to their benches: Fielding, like a naughty child at show-and-tell, produced fellow funnyman Paul Foot who, it transpired, would provide the biggest laughs of the whole thing.
Elsewhere, offerings were rather less lively: rapper Tinie Tempah, Mollie King of The Saturdays and safe-bet Alesha Dixon (she's been here before). No one was made fun of quite as they once were; when they are, the joke remains snugly PR-friendly. The competition rounds are much the same as they ever were; everyone knows what obstacle they'll face. Never Mind the Buzzcocks might be back, but – from the 'slebs' point of view – there's not that much to mind.
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