My Weird and Wonderful Family, Channel 4
My Child's Big Fat Birthday Party, BBC1

This glimpse at the home life of the Drewitt-Barlows said more about individual weirdness than gay parenting

Where next for the shock doc?

Though the title promised freak-show voyeurism, the only shock in My Weird and Wonderful Family – a portrait of gay couple Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow bringing up their brood of artificially conceived kids and orchestrating the in-vitro conception of two more – was that, on the whole, it looked pretty normal.

Ten years ago, when the Drewitt-Barlows made history by fathering twins (with help from an egg donor and surrogate in California, and a cool quarter of a million quid), our social landscape was very different. An archive clip showed the pair being grilled on GMTV by Eamonn Holmes in full conduit-of-the-outraged-masses mode, railing about gay men wanting kids as "accessories" and "going against nature". Since then, we've seen civil partnerships, a gay X-Factor winner and countless prime-time gay storylines. Certainly, if you were going to take the Drewitt-Barlows as a model, those arguments around gay parenting might seem a lot less controversial these days.

The Drewitt-Barlow kids – daughter Saffron and boys Aspen and Orlando – seem well-adjusted and sweet-natured, and their interaction with their fathers ("Dad" and "Daddy") is loving but relaxed. Nor do they want for anything on a material level – no guarantee of happiness, but handy in matters such as shopping around for a supportive school. It helped too that the Drewitt-Barlows seemed to own half their village, their fiefdom extending to the pub and the hair salon.

Although charming subjects, I wasn't sure about the wisdom, or indeed ethics, of quizzing the children themselves. The question of whether a child brought up by gay parents is more likely to be gay (perhaps I am being obtuse but why does this obsess people so?) was touched on when they asked the boys whether they'd be gay or straight when they grew up. "Gay!" declared little Orlando exuberantly. But since he had, moments before, concluded that if he hadn't been born, he "would have been a crocodile", it struck me as pretty useless evidence.

Perhaps inevitably, the programme's main flaw was that it offered few wider conclusions. The Drewitt-Barlows were at pains to stress that there's no such thing as a representative family, thus their success can only be considered a self-contained story, a one-off.

What really unsettled, however, were the non-gay issues that were briefly touched on. Barrie displayed little grasp of the ethics of paying a woman for her eggs, arguing that it was legal in California, and equating probity and legality with a rather faulty logic, given that they went to the United States because paying for eggs is illegal in Britain.

And there was something, if not wrong, then shiver-inducingly sci-fi about the fact that the twins, Aspen and Orlando, had been implanted in surrogate mothers at different times, resulting in identical twins with a four-year age difference.

Assisted reproduction popped up again in My Child's Big Fat Birthday Party – one of those slightly trashy documentaries that follow the BBC News at 10pm as if someone has confused the schedule with BBC3.

Of course, all the adults here were behaving absurdly, spending thousands on their kids' single-figure birthdays. Suzanne, a Cardiff mum straight out of Gavin & Stacey ("Aw babe, you look lush, you look mega lush!") had been brought up a Jehovah's Witness and was making up for all the missed celebrations by throwing a Wild West party complete with bucking bronco for her bemused young son.

But there was something particularly unhealthy about one mum, who'd had her son through IVF and was now bringing him up alone. "He's the child who shouldn't have been," she said, before going on to describe her son in terms that would make Freud do cartwheels. Before the party (an extravaganza for 12 at a venue with capacity for 200), she dithered over wearing a feather-trimmed corset top that he'd picked out for her, as if he were some tyrannical husband.

All children bear the weight of their parents' love to some degree, but it was hard not to think that to be the fruit of the modern fertility struggle might place an intolerable pressure on a child.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones