TV review: Through the Keyhole: Who would work in a suit like this?
A long-gone, winning formula gets a revival – and the result is appallingly watchable
Sunday 01 September 2013
For more than a quarter of a century, Through the Keyhole has satisfied some of our less wholesome desires. It is the Hello! magazine of television – an opportunity to poke, pry, titter and gawp inside the homes of the rich and famous. The format is simple but brilliant: a panel of minor celebrities has to guess the identity of another minor celebrity by watching yet another C-lister snoop round their home.
When it started, as a segment on breakfast television in 1983, the then unknown Loyd Grossman did the snooping. The story goes he was chosen by mistake, in a William Boot-style cock-up – producer Kevin Sim mistook him for another journalist on House and Garden with an exotic name. But he was perfect: both engrossed and engrossing. By 1987, the show had become a standalone half-hour, hosted by David Frost, who gave heavyweight legitimacy to what is essentially a bit of trash.
After a five-year pause, ITV has revived the show, rolling the role of Frost and Grossman into the single figure of Keith Lemon. It's a terrible choice. I know he is a made-up character, played by the comedian Leigh Francis. And I know that the point of him is to be crass and loud-mouthed. But knowing this doesn't make the experience more bearable. The joy of this show lies in the naffness of others. There is so much opportunity for comedy in these hideous homes that a quizzically raised eyebrow is quite enough. But Lemon thinks he is the point of interest, and I could only cringe as he leered and bounced off the walls, flashing his ginger chest hair.
The mystery of this programme is why anyone, let alone the rich or famous, would agree to do it. Sure, they get paid, and if they're on the way down, it's a last burst of prime-time exposure. But John Prescott must be even naffer than I thought if the prospect of having Keith Lemon jumping on his bed seemed worth the four-figure cheque.
Still, I'm glad he agreed. I now know the Prescotts have a croquet set installed on the lawn. You have to take your hat off to the producers: they landed three decent stories for the opening episode. Who knew that Duncan and Lee from Blue now live together, after Lee's missus chucked him out? For preening popstars, their bathroom is surprisingly drab. Then there was Louis Smith, the Olympic gymnast with a secret TV den. Not that interesting, but did you know he auditioned for X Factor? ITV dug up previously unseen footage and, to his evident mortification, played a clip of him caterwauling. It was truly awful, but wonderful to watch.
Horror of a much graver nature was the subject of a BBC documentary, This World: Terror in the Desert (BBC2, Saturday **). In January, 800 people were held hostage for three days by al-Qa'ida-linked terrorists at the Tigantourine gas plant near In Amenas in Algeria. The Algerian army saw fit to deal with the situation not through negotiation but by bowling up and opening fire, which left 39 foreign hostages, including five Britons, dead. For the first time, a handful of survivors spoke about the ordeal.
It should have made for riveting viewing, but was strangely boring. For once, this was a real-life story that needed the Hollywood touch, partly because almost no footage of the incident exists and nobody thought to reconstruct key events. Instead, we had to make do with still shots interspersed with survivors' talking heads. And their monotonous delivery made it quite clear they were gas workers, not actors.
Still, their tales were heroic. One made a break for it early on: he legged it to the boundary fence with the words "I'll kill you" ringing in his ears, from a terrorist who had a curiously cut-glass accent. The hostage broke three ribs jumping off the fence, but made it to safety at the gendarmerie next door.
Another, a BP employee, Nick Hitch, repeatedly thought he was about to be killed, as his captors threatened him with a crowbar and put necklaces of explosives around his neck. He miraculously escaped, however, when the convoy of cars he was in was blown up, killing 29 people. He was able to crawl out with only a flesh wound.
The survivors got home safely, but losing so many colleagues was a trauma that clearly hangs over them still. The documentary concluded with the pertinent question of why BP has not yet opened an inquiry. That 40 terrorists were able to drive up and take over a giant refinery must be a major embarrassment.
And they didn't even bring Keith Lemon.
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