Last Night's TV: They've got new grounds for complaint

Young Mums' Mansion, BBC3; I Am The Elephant Man: A Bodyshock Special, Channel 4; Delia BBC2
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Like one of the toddlers in last night's Young Mums' Mansion, BBC3 is still groping towards its own sense of identity, but shows such as this really do very little to help the young channel's development. Throwing 10 single mums and their children into a mansion in Somerset for a month was surely the product of an unformed mind. You could imagine it as the troubled offspring of The Apprentice and Rainbow, if anyone remembers that, but without either of its parents' flair or originality. The programme makers made some pretence of presenting it a bold experiment in social engineering, with the cameras ever present to capture each tearful, but supposedly valuable, revelation. But it was just another outbreak of the current epidemic of bad reality television.

Every week, one of the lone parents is given the task of being "the leader" of this disparate group and organising the makeshift commune in their own image. Why? Dunno. Last night the job fell to Danielle, who obviously has enough trouble controlling her own little boy without taking on nine others and their sometimes puerile parents. Danielle imposed a 7pm kiddies' curfew simply on the grounds that that's what her lad gets. Mothers of the older children declared the plan unworkable, but like the bossy-boots bosses on The Apprentice, Danielle imposed her will on the others, and tantrums (by the adults) duly followed. All pretty pointless.

I would concede that, for those of us who take the view that all single parents are heroic figures who do a difficult job in trying circumstances, the show did demonstrate that this was not always the case. Rhianna, for example, was apparently such a "failure" (her word) that her three- year-old, Jamie, normally spends half of the week at his dad's and the other half with his gran. Her idea of playtime supervision was to sit on a doorstep fagging it while the commune's offspring disappeared over the horizon. This young (20 years old) mum had to leave the mansion when it was discovered that she'd failed to inform the boy's dad that she was taking his son away for a month. Maybe she just needed help, but the other mothers were evidently a pretty saintly bunch. So I would also hope that those who tune in to Young Mums' Mansion to have their prejudices confirmed that every lone mother is an idle, feckless benefits junkie will be chastened by the panorama of loving and responsible parenting on display. But that is the only good this piece of broadcasting may do. Unlike the £100,000 job with Sir Alan Sugar at the end of The Apprentice, there will be no reward for those in the Young Mums' Mansion: nor should there be any prizes for whoever at BBC3 fathered it.

Less predictably awful was I Am the Elephant Man: a BodyShock Special on Channel 4. This was the story of Huang Chuncai, a 31-year-old from rural south-west China who has neurofibromatosis, which has left him hideously crippled and deformed, with 20kg of tumours hanging from his face. He is undergoing treatment for his condition, and with early success. Sometimes doctors tell people that there are no "nice" cancers, though some are easier to treat than others. This face cancer must be the least nice of all, because it so comprehensively robs its victims of dignity, and the understanding of others. Or does it? The programme was billed as "harrowing" and "gruelling" viewing, seemingly just another example of freak-show telly, and it was obviously startling to see a man in such a state, but you quickly became impressed by Huang's dignity and the sympathy shown to him by his family and his village community. It's unlikely that he would have seen David Lynch's masterful film about Jospeh Merrick, our own "original" Elephant Man, and I would hope that the producers didn't prompt him in this direction, but some of the Huang's "lines" were sadly familiar – "I am a human being not an animal" and "Even though life felt impossible I found the strength to carry on". It was sad that, as with Merrick over a century ago, a travelling circus tried to "buy" Huang, though his parents told them to get lost. I don't know whether Channel 4 or September Films paid Huang a fee for his trouble, but they succeeded in letting him tell his story with a very modern sensitivity. Maybe they could have toned down the "elephant man" references a bit, though.

According to Delia Smith in Delia, a lady named Pauline "tests" all her recipes, not least to ensure that the audience can buy all the ingredients readily, even if you "don't live near the Fulham Road", by which I think Delia means you're not a trendy Londoner with a range of posh delis within walking distance. Well, now Delia has another tester, called Sean, and this one can tell her that up in provincial England you can't get the exact variety of salad potato and the precise consistency of tomato sauce specifed in her recipe for Spanish pork stew, not at Asda, anyway, so I think on this test Delia failed. However, for someone who thought "short-circuiting the rules of cooking", as Delia calls it, meant a Pot Noodle, I remain grateful to her for suggesting such a tasty TV dinner.