And the world laughs with you
the week on television
Saturday 15 March 1997
There was a particularly monstrous example of this critical stance in another newspaper's review of the first instalment of Balls to Africa (BBC1, Sun, Mon, Tues). It imputed the basest of limelight-seeking motives to the messy menage of celebrities assembled for a football tour of West Africa. They were described as "embarrassingly available" and "second- rate" by a reviewer the memory of whose witty radio stuntwork has been all but eclipsed by the widely noted brevity of his own career in TV. How second-rate is "second-rate"? Better than having no rating at all.
In fact, the now established tradition of comedians reporting from the front line of deprivation is part of a much wider trend in TV. Celebrity involvement buys an audience for documentaries that would normally be given a wide berth. They may be about feeding the world or feeding the intellect (remember Terry Jones on the crusades?) but the same rules apply. It speaks far less well of the viewer than the viewed that this should be so. We're the invertebrates for needing to be led by the hand towards our own wallets, or our own enlightenment, by people who make us laugh.
If there was a slackness to Balls to Africa, it took the refreshing form of an admission, albeit unspoken, that these celebrities didn't know precisely what good they were doing. Frank Skinner stood in a swarm of giggling "Africans", as the beneficiaries of our charity are generically known in this sort of film, and reckoned it was "great that they're doing gags". That summed up the almost childlike paucity of his world view, in which the punchline looms larger than the poverty line. But it was a welcome retreat from the holy know-all style of some previous Comic Relief films.
The tendency in Comic Relief programming to sentimentalise "Africans", with the help of slow-motion and plangent soundtracking, is not inflicted on "the homeless". Lenny Henry's brief in Walk On By (BBC1, Wed) was to present his street-sleeping subjects as individuals. Genetically programmed to be larger than life, he suppressed his own personality wherever loudness was inappropriate, but skilfully used it wherever possible to coax the personality out of others. In one scene, he helped Jason, a boy with a periodic heroin problem, to sell the very newspaper that carried this week's critique of Comic Relief's impure philanthropy. (In a rather choice irony, the punters all wanted him to autograph the front page.) Jason eventually felt familiar enough with Henry to admit that he always switched over when he was on.
Jason also took a camera crew to Canterbury to show them his childhood haunts. "Who'd want to film you?" a friend, passing by, asked incredulously. The glamour models on Kilroy (BBC1, Thurs) didn't have the answer to much the same question. Most of the women participating in this studio investigation into nude modelling were thinking in terms of a future in TV presenting. However, television is a prudish medium. "I've got a degree," said one woman from under uniform white hair. "But I can't get a job as a presenter. Perhaps at Channel X, but not Carlton." So there we have it: rejected by the channel widely regarded as the lowest of terrestrial low, but granted a free screen test by Kilroy.
As an act of wholly inappropriate charity, it was matched only by the plug for a moribund pop group in The Queen Phenomenon (C4, Mon). Channel 4 ought to set up an inquiry to find out how this one managed got through its defences. Perhaps it happened the day Michael Grade was handing in his resignation. MTV had presumably discarded it as insufficiently rigorous. The film was made by a rum-sounding pair called Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher. "Europeans". Who needs them'?
Life & Style blogs
DNA hope on schizophrenia: Research breakthrough points at over 100 genes
Husband creates spreadsheet detailing wife's 'excuses' for turning down sex
Apple has installed security backdoors on 600m iPhones and iPads, claims security researcher
UK pirates will get four warning letters a year
Man takes most pointless Uber cab ride of all time
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
- 1 Apple has installed security backdoors on 600m iPhones and iPads, claims security researcher
- 2 UK pirates will get four warning letters a year
- 3 Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
- 4 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 5 Israel-Gaza conflict: Deadly flechette shells 'used by Israeli military in Gaza Strip’
Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...
Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...
£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...
£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire