Television: A sauna? Now that's hot

What kind of people are we? Are we the sort who call our children Dominic, Sasha and Amber, employ Ilsa the nanny, and whose spouse has left home to set up with a younger model? Most important of all, are we the kind who would - if we could afford it - build a sauna in the basement of our large Hampstead house?

If so, Mothertime (BBC2, Sun) was about us. Its dysfunctional professional family consisted of a drunken ex-concert pianist mother (the sexy Gina McKee), a "barrister and media darling" absentee husband (the gorgeous Anthony Andrews), his former book editor and current girlfriend (the smouldering Imogen Stubbs) and - in addition to the three sprogs named above - the eldest daughter Vanessa (the dazzling and precocious Kate Maberley).

The sauna, in an area of washing machines and exercise bicycles referred to as "Daddy's gym", was played by a FinnHeat DeLuxe (pounds 7,750 plus VAT - installation extra), constructed from Scandinavian pine. It was an object of some interest to me, as I have always fantasised about receiving special guests in the steamy comfort of my sauna, and then setting about them healthily with birch twigs. Except not my parents.

What I never knew about these FinnHeats was that they came equipped with external door locks and - presumably hidden under a hinged bench - a lavatory and washroom. But when Vanessa and her siblings shoved abusive, drink-sodden Mum in the sauna on Christmas Eve, they managed to lock her in from the outside and then keep her there till Easter. The idea was to get her to dry out and then to lure their much-loved father back to the home. She must have peed somewhere.

Anyway, for this ruse to succeed, Vanessa had to pretend to be her mother - whom nobody missed physically - by imitating her voice on the phone, and by forging her signature on credit cards. Even Mum's current (adulterous) boyfriend (a man who, called out of the bath, covered his bits with a copy of Campaign) did not try too hard to find her.

This is what happens. After DTs (two cockroaches and a vaseline-smeared lens) Mum is finally ready for reunion. Except, of course, it turns out to have been Dad's fault all along. He selfishly destroyed her musical career, drove her to drink, divorced her and wrote a best-selling book about it, and isn't fit to stroke her foot with a birch twig. He suffers the inevitable fate of philandering fathers in modern TV drama, being dumped by the book editor (who has just borne him a child), who then teams up with Wife One and leaves him alone, clueless and speechless. The moral, Vanessa was told, is that "you cannot make people love you." Which is true, I suppose, but not the whole point. If I had been the husband I would originally have wanted to keep the family together come what may. For the sake of the kids - and the sauna. Imogen Stubbs is damnably attractive, but I have waited so long for a FinnHeat Deluxe.

Let us suspend for a moment the question of who we are, and examine who our rulers are. According to Mr White Goes to Westminster (C4, Tues), they are a collection of shyster politicians, hand-in-glove with unscrupulous newspaper editors, playing their money and career games at the expense of a noble, but manipulated people. Mr White, essentially a fictionalised Martin Bell, beats a Hamiltonian duo, gets into Parliament and finds himself the victim of a smear campaign by the tabloids because of his affair with a lovely, unscrupulous, new-Labourite woman MP. Only the guts of an ordinary working-class single mother, campaigning against injustice, stops White quitting the battle against sleaze and compromise, in a world where new Labour is quite as corrupt as the shower they replaced.

Well OK, this is satire. But it is lazy satire. To depict all politicians and journalists as venal (except, of course, for hero correspondents), and all members of the public as rather admirable, is easy stuff. It's like blaming "management" for whatever goes wrong. I know a lot of politicians and they are - on the whole - a decent bunch, no better or worse than the rest of us. They are fashioned from the same stuff as we are, and constrained by us.

No, the really difficult and important satire to write - the one that would have sailed close to the wind and that Jonathan Swift might have attempted - would have been based, not on events in Westminster after 1 May this year, but on what happened just before and just after the death of Diana. For that told us things about ourselves that we never knew.

In Modern Times: The Shrine (BBC2, Tues), that weird week in early September came alive in a wonderfully paced and restrained documentary about the people who went to the park. It attempted no analysis, fielded no psychologists, spoke to no MPs or editors (though these things are fine, in their place), but simply observed and listened.

There, once more, was the sea of polythene, candles, geegaws, cuttings, mementos, children's poems and flowers. True, there were the sightseers, the gawpers, the seekers after sensation - but in greater numbers we saw those drawn by a sense of compassion and emotional community, leaving the isolation of the car, or the semi, and walking at night-time in the warm park; the dad feeding his baby, the man in the wheelchair with the kite, the woman with the social worker haircut and kind face, the crop- haired lad comforting his crying girl. One young woman said that her dad and mum were with her, but her dad wanted to go home. Another, older woman said her mum and dad were with her too. Except, in her case, they were both dead.

It has become fashionable since that week to talk about hysteria. Schooled in cynicism, it is hard for some of our contemporaries to admit that anything could be at once popular and worthwhile. But watching The Shrine reminded me instead of what - as an initial sceptic - I felt back in September. Which was a pride in how the people of this country behaved and acted that week.

All right. So if we're so good, I hear you cry, how come we deserved to start 1998 with something as dreadful as Happy New Year Live From Edinburgh's Hogmanay (ITV, New Year's Eve)?

You didn't. It's just that ITV have signed Anthea Turner and Phillip Schofield on extremely expensive and long-term contracts, have completely failed to find formats that make use of (or, rather, discover) their many talents, and wanted to get some value for their dosh before the year's end.

The trouble is that these two grins-on-legs don't so much make television presentation look easy, as pointless. They are almost purely physical beings; on live TV they have nothing remotely intelligent or interesting to say or ask. Taken one grin at a time, this vacuousness is relatively untroubling: it is merely an aberration. But if you put them together, as here, the effect is quantum. Jointly they suck anything gritty or edgy from the atmosphere, leaving the whole place muzzy and sickly. It is like inhaling candy floss.

Thus Anthea and Phil set the scene with bland enthusiasm: "Hello and welcome!" "Hi!" "Magnificent and imposing castle!" But as the various singing, comic and dancing acts were introduced Phil, at least, decided to convince us that he was in dangerous party mood, that - if provoked - he would shed that red "Phillip, wrap up, it's cold out there" scarf and overcoat, pop an E and make violent love to a Lowlands lassie. He did this by greeting each new act with the exclamation "yahay!" Or "aha" Or, a radical third permutation, "haha!" (though "yahay" was the most popular). If Phil has orgasms (a book has been opened on this), at the moment of crisis, he probably whispers "yahay!"

But at least he allowed us to discover what is really between Anthea Turner's legs. Now mad with partying ("yahay, aha, haha!"), he persuaded his co-host to part her little red riding hood coat, and to reveal that she was clasping a tartan hot water bottle between her black stockinged thighs. So, disgracefully, I started 1998 becoming sexually interested in Anthea Turner. And that's what kind of person I am.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Nursery assistants required in Cambridge

    £10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

    Year 4 Teacher

    £20000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

    English Teacher Thetford Secondary

    £110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: An Academy based in Thetfor...

    Year 1 Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work at ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week