Last Night's Viewing: Daddy Daycare, Channel 4<br />Versailles, BBC2


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"I get the feeling sometimes that the staff want us to fail," said Stefan, one of three men who featured in Daddy Daycare, a Channel 4 reality series designed to address a social crisis that almost certainly doesn't exist. I don't mean for a moment, by the way, that there are no incompetent or deadbeat fathers out there. Or that it isn't useful for even the most well-intentioned man to learn some lessons about childcare. But the implication that today's men are unusually bad at fatherhood ("Modern British life has spawned a generation of dysfunctional dads") is surely not true. Even the horror statistic used to underwrite this exercise in mental re-education could be seen from another angle as a silver lining: "Almost half of all mothers feel fathers don't do their share," said the voiceover at the beginning of the show. Really? You mean that as many as 50 per cent of mothers now feel fathers do? The truth of it was that it wasn't the staff at the south London nursery Stefan had been sent to who wanted him to fail. It was the production company. And even they only wanted him to fail a bit comically in the first half so that he could recover in the second, make a public act of contrition, and score a modest triumph before the final credits.

Stefan's fellow guinea pigs in this process were Garry, a workaholic optician with what looked like attention deficit disorder, and Jay, a father of one who was so appalled by the experience that he'd arranged to have a vasectomy. Stefan himself was only engaged to be married but had signed up for the process because he was troubled about whether he'd make a good father or not. All three of them had taken a week off work to do day-shifts in a busy nursery. And the result was entirely predictable. Garry, jittering around the place as if he'd had three litres of Coca-Cola for breakfast, treated his assigned three-year-olds as if they were delinquent staff members: "Is everyone ready for the story! Seriously... people!" Jay, handed a weeping child, flinched visibly: "I actually want to put them in microwaves," he said. And Stefan brought a military briskness to the business of changing a dirty nappy: "I'm dreadfully sorry," he said to the infant whose legs he was holding in the air, "I've completely forgotten your name. I do apologise."

Given that they appear to have received no prior training at all, they did pretty well. Garry's remark – "We can all do this stuff. It's not rocket science" – may have been a bit premature and a bit cocky but was in essence right. And when you found out more about the men's back stories, two of them at least had good reason to be carrying a bit of baggage about fatherhood. Garry had been diagnosed with MS and didn't know how much time he had left to provide for his family, while Stefan had been scarred by his own father's late defection from the family. The only thing standing in the way of him being a good father was his profound anxiety that he might not be good enough, which you can't really represent as a wilful delinquency. Fortunately, all three of them absorbed their lesson well, ultimately declaring their acceptance of the party line with the obedient zeal of class enemies who'd been sent to shovel night-soil on a re-education tour.

Versailles was an odd affair, in which French dramatisations were married to British historical talking heads. As a result, it had rather more wet T-shirt moments and bottom-bearings than the usual BBC history series. Interesting, though, particularly in its depiction of an aristocratic class that arrogantly refused to recognise the injustice of its privileges until they lost them, and everything else besides. Hope some bankers were watching.