The Weekend's TV: The WI Guide to Brothels, Sun, Channel 4 <br />Sprint, Sun, BBC2

It should have been given the red light
Click to follow

"Can you give me some information about the Ass Midget?" asked Jean, in cut-glass tones. Jean is holding a twelve-inch black plastic garden gnome and the proprietor of the Amsterdam sex shop she's standing in is eager to help. "People like to stick it up their arse," he explained, which, judging from the look on Jean's face and the speed with which she returned the item to the rack, was rather more information than she was bargaining for. Along with her friend Shirley, Jean was in Amsterdam on the first leg of a fact-finding mission, in pursuance of their campaign to reform Britain's laws on prostitution. The WI Guide to Brothels took its title from the fact that the Hampshire Women's Institite recently passed a resolution calling for the legalisation of brothels. Inadvertently, the programme also provided a guide as to what can happen when a serious and well-intentioned campaign is hijacked by a television programme looking for cheap laughs.

What Jean and Shirley want is some resolution to the existing muddle of Britain's sex laws and safer conditions for prostitutes. What Nicky Taylor, the presenter and provocateur, wanted was eye-catching television, preferably with a sizeable walk-on part for herself in a Morgan Spurlock, in-at-the-deep end role. So instead of a sober consideration of the pros and cons of legalised prostitution, and some statistical evidence of its results, she sent Jean and Shirley off to find the "perfect brothel" while she immersed herself in the sex-trade, trying her hand (or rather her vocal cords) at telephone sex and working for a night as a maid in a Dagenham whorehouse.

Jean and Shirley were absolute troupers, not exactly unblushing in their confrontation with the more graphic elements of the sex-trade but undoubtedly game to find out what a life on the game involves. "Do you want to see my world famous upside-down blow job?" asked Airforce Amy, one of the star performers in a Nevada brothel they visited. "Well, it would be very interesting, it's something I've never seen before," replied Jean, as if she'd been offered advice on a new trick with royal icing. Airforce Amy performed a vigorous mime. "It knocks their socks off," she said with sisterly solidarity. "I imagine it would," said Jean, a little flustered. "I'll try that when I go home, actually."

But it was hard not to feel that their willingness had been taken advantage of here. Whose idea was it that they should pose in an Amsterdam window brothel, subject to the surprised inspection of passing punters? Or don fluffy pink bathrobes and line up with the girls at the Nevada BunnyRanch, so they could be exposed to the cheesy innuendos of the brothel's creepy owner? Not theirs, I think, and more than once they looked distinctly uncomfortable at the whorish biddability television demands of a "good sport". "I can't believe we did that," said Jean, after their stint in an Amsterdam shop front. "How on earth are we going to face everybody?" replied Shirley. "I don't know," said Jean. "Well, it doesn't matter because it's all in the name of research." No it isn't, Jean. It's all in the name of good telly. When the programme reached its artificially tickled climax – the unveiling of a WI-branded mobile brothel incorporating Jean and Shirley's findings – they quickly discovered that their fellow members could see precisely what was going on. "I think it's sensationalist," said one. Another darkly muttered the words "laughing stock". They were, quite justifiably, very cross.

To be fair, Nicky Taylor's excursions into the practical realities of British prostitution did highlight some of the hypocrisies of the current system, in which a well-run brothel may be servicing police officers one day and being raided by them the next. But it never really honestly addressed itself to the dismay Jean and Shirley felt at the exploitation they found pretty much everywhere, or how legalising on the basis of a tasteful boutique brothel in New Zealand is going to do anything to improve the mass-market businesses that would also take advantage of any change in the law. Anyone for easyBonk? Thousands, I guess, but I don't imagine it would be a lot of fun to work there.

I have some advice for the sports- averse among you, bracing yourselves for the looming horror of the Olympics. Check out iPlayer and watch programmes like Olympic Dreams (one still to come on Tuesday) and last night's Sprint, which give you the back story to some of the events. As you learn more about the potential competitors and the quite extraordinary sacrifices they make to reach Olympic standard, a strange and inexplicable sensation begins to stir: a desire to watch the early heats of the 100 metres and the final of the Paralympic dressage competition in order to see how your new friends get on. Start training for these events now, or you're going to be left for dead.

Comments