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.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit