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.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

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
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
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

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    SENCO

    £21000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: SENCO - Benfleet - J...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you looking to work in Edu...

    Nursery Manager

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for a nursery manage...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker