Ice in her heart and irony in her soul

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Celebrity today requires irony, otherwise it is embarrassing. So It's Ulrika! (BBC2, Mon) is the ultimate new show. Its star looks nice (though "oozing sex", as one paper has it, does insufficient justice to her inner iciness), is charming, clearly intelligent, and has sufficient ability not to make herself look idiotic. But she is - far more than most - essentially a media construction, an empty, elegant glass vessel, into which various coloured liquids are poured by the likes of Reeves and Mortimer. She is not a singer, a dancer, or a comic. If she looked like Kathy Burke she would not have had a career in telly. Her private life is almost a media construction itself, for she has been married to a TV cameraman and lived with - of all things - a Gladiator called Hunter (and I don't suppose they discussed Proust over their gravadlax).

In the show, of course, she is taking the mickey out of herself; sending up the idea of someone who could become famous by reading the weather, or introducing talentless hunks to screaming studio audiences. That's why her most convincing lampoon was the take-off of Anthea Turner, a star of amazing pointlessness. Once Ulrika might have been everything that Anthea is, but now she's ironic - and that makes her something much more substantial. Well maybe. But - in the end - giving Ulrika her own show is a bit like marrying the au pair. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but where does it leave you?

Judging by the outcome of The Beggar Bride (BBC1, Sun & Mon), it will not lead to happiness. In this Bank Holiday B-novel adaptation Ange, an underclass lass, stuck in a verminous high-rise with a young kid and a feckless, work-shy husband, takes it into her head that the obvious way out of the infested rookeries is through seducing - and bigamously marrying - a middle-aged captain of industry. She will then divorce him, and end up with large amounts of dosh.

There are, of course, two big problems with this. The first is that her husband might object. The second is that it is not easy for a Tower Block Ange to meet and mix with a toff like Sir Sebastian. But both difficulties are overcome with singular ease, due to the observable facts that all men are either incredibly stupid, or slaves to their genitals.

Added to this is the extraordinary talent that Ange has for instant self improvement, as though (to take the example of Pygmalion) she has an inner auto-Higgins. For, one moment she is speaking like Raine Spencer, and the next she slips back into Sharon'n' Tracey. Thus is she able to pass between the sharply delineated worlds (sex-mad, fast-car, greedy-bastard aristos versus shouty, gurning, chain-smoking, battered, battering underclass) with impressive fluidity.

So it is that the second she shows herself to Sebastian in her French lacy underthings, he is irredeemably lost. It is a short step from here to consummation. In his case, a very short step. His chest touches hers, and this - verbatim - is how he progresses from excitement to ecstasy: "Oh. Ah. Mmm. Oh. Ah. Ah. Oh. Ahah. Ahahahahah. Ooh. Whoo. Wherr." If Sir Sebastian runs his multinational company with similar economy, then it is easy to see why he's so successful.

It all comes unstuck in the end. There are problems in the family, and rich daughter Honesty - seen shagging a rough-looking man up against a wall (a sure sign of waywardness) - eventually precipitates confession. "Please try to understand," Ange urges Seb. And this is quite a request, given that she is asking him to comprehend that she is actually a semi bag lady, who has entrapped him, bigamously married him, and passed another man's son off as his. Especially problematic since - earlier - Sebastian had uttered the ominous words, "I'm never going to let you go."

But people don't really mean this kind of thing, whether in drama or in real life. Sebastian forgives her and endows her with tons of money. And the owner of a boxer dog seen in Vets in Practice (BBC1, Tues) first declares that "I won't let them take her away from me" and then places the animal in the tender care of the most famous and feared veterinary novice in these isles.

I refer, of course, to Ulrika's blonde, charming doppelganger and fellow Scan, Trude Mostue, the cack-handed student whom we learnt to love in Vet School, but whose emergence as a fully-fledged beast-doctor should terrify every terrier, and affright every Afghan.

But something has happened to Trude: like Ange she too has been transformed. True, her first act is to be weed on by an incontinent bunny, and her last is to contract ringworm. But in between these Trudish occurrences she actually saves the boxer dog. It survives to jump all over her. Hurrah!

Down in Bideford another new vet is clipping parrots in the home of "former society hairdresser", Trevor. Trevor possesses a televisual tangled mane of barmy hair, in which his avian collection probably make their nests and pursue their parrotty affairs. He is a character, like Trude is a character, and like lots of folk that you will see in thousands of shows for the next five years are true-life Characters. For this is the week that Mo from Driving School appeared on This is Your Life.

Mind you, it's not all glamour. "Next morning in Builth Wells ... " someone is cutting maggots out of a sheep's bottom, and someone else is extracting, by hand, gravel from the anus of a sheepdog. Now, this may not have occurred to you, but if a guy like Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind, why cannot he do something useful, like psycho-kinesise that troublesome anal gravel away?

Because - as the wonderful Equinox: the Secrets of the Psychics (C4, Sun) suggested - he cannot actually do anything that any talented conjuror cannot. I won't bore you with yet another attack on the Voodoovision cult that has disfigured British TV recently, but simply commend a programme which showed two things very clearly. First that there are - and always have been - some extremely clever and ruthless illusionists out there. And - second - that there is an exceptional desire to believe that what these hoaxers tell us is actually true.

The question, in my mind, is whether those that make Beyond Belief or The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna fit the latter description, or are willing abetters of the former. Equinox, through one participant, said that "producers and editors recognise an attractive story that they want to be true". This is charitable indeed, but the alternative would be that they transmit bollocks that they know to be bollocks, in order to make money. So, dear reader, which do you believe?

Certainly TV people do weird things. Like those periodic but doomed attempts to mix current-affairs programming with light entertainment. As Equinox reminded us, one of Geller's earliest appearances on uncritical British TV was on something awful called The Dimbleby Talk-In. And this same show was also an accessory to one of the greatest crimes perpetrated against the anglophone world since the war - the Osmonds. When the boys had been met at Heathrow by a fainting, ululating crowd of wet-knickered prepubescents, Dimbleby was intrigued. "What state is it that they're in?" he asked his guest shrink. "A state of acute hysteria, made by stimulating the nervous system", replied the plausible pundit, referring simultaneously to the girls, the stars and to Dimbleby himself.

This second embarrassing moment from the career of Dimbles Senior was shown on the glorious Osmond Family Values (BBC1, Sun), a show that traced - without commentary - the inevitable decline and fall of the singing Mormon family, in whom some horrid inner force or genetic kink must have been responsible for the creepy keratinous profusion and the spooky dentition. These were the boys who did so much to make the Seventies an intolerable decade, believing that they were "the white Jackson Five", and seriously comparing their long-forgotten song "Bad Apples" with the equally long- remembered "ABC". Did they never wonder why Little Jimmy Osmond failed to earn a mansion stocked with live animals, fairground rides, industry awards, Liz Taylor and obliging teenagers? Do they not look back with embarrassment on the Elvis-style diamante jumpsuits, performing "Crazy Horses" and looking as sexy as, say, Peter Sissons singing "Ave Maria"?

Then, I hated them with a rare passion, them and David Cassidy. Punk was not a reaction to social exclusion, it was a reaction against the Osmonds. It's hard to explain now, for these days all right-minded parents would far rather their children grew up like Johnny Rotten than like Donny Osmond.

But today I am filled with compassion. Most of "the boys" now look like Hoss from Bonanza or Ernest Borgnine. One has been "hospitalised" 14 times, another has had a brain tumour, and a third has multiple sclerosis. They lost millons, but never took drugs, never indulged in orgies, never trashed a hotel room, or choked on vomit. And they're total wrecks. So - the moral of the show - it's fame itself that kills. And to survive it, you need to be ironic.