Television: 'Daddy ... what's an alcove?'

I HAD NEVER understood how tedious it must be to be a newsreader until I caught Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, Midnight Special: Clinton in Crisis (Tues). Here he was, suddenly liberated from the constraints of newstalk and freed from the technical language of negotiations, talks and White Papers. "Hello, and welcome to Washington. Welcome to the White House. And welcome to serious trouble - Clinton in crisis," he beamed at the camera. And welcome, he might have added, to more than an hour of salacious tittle-tattle, speculation and analysis in which we talk about fellatio, phone sex, semen stains, wiretaps, conspiracies and other such dainties, all perfectly justifiable by the gravity of the crisis. It was the night of the President's State of the Union address, and this programme had, as Snow pointed out, displaced I Married a Monster From Outer Space.

Dayglo-bright in salmon shirtsleeves, Snow was a strange and charming mixture of incredulity, boisterousness and current-affairs sobriety as he guided a rotating panel of American guests through the lubricious details, punctuating his questions with the odd sly reference - as in Clinton's attempt to "retain his dignity and his trousers", or asking one guest, "how far into the speech will we forget the trousers?"

There was so much innuendo that occasionally, an unintended double entendre slipped through the net. As when Snow turned to one analyst and asked, perfectly seriously, "suppose it's a limp performance tonight?" It was a perfect encapsulation of the difficulty that serious news bods had all week. At one point, after a bulletin in which the possibility of "oral sex in an alcove" was mentioned, my seven-year-old turned to me and asked, "Daddy, what's an alcove?"

Halfway through the show, some of the cast changed, and in came Steve Hess, a presidential historian and greybeard from the prestigious Brookings Institute. Snow turned to Hess apologetically: "We're going to have to talk about sex. I'm very sorry to have to ask a man of your probity about it." The women on the panel, with whom Snow had been swapping semen stories for half an hour, were scandalised. "You asked us!" they chorused, offended by the suggestion that their willingness to talk about sex had suggested - to Snow at least - a lack of probity. In fact, the distinguished historian, like everyone else in America, adored talking about sex, detailing the peccadilloes of such giants as President Grover Cleveland.

Finally, a rumpled Christopher Hitchens, down the line from San Francisco, gave as good an explanation of the link between Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky as I have heard. It was all to do, he said, with the modus operandi of Clinton and his associates. It was the cover-ups and the lies that mattered. I couldn't decide whether he was inspired, or just a bit bonkers. "Remember Revlon," was Hitchens's last sentence; if you hear the word again, you will know that Hitchens is vindicated.

"Remember Revlon" could also have been a line from Heat of the Sun (ITV, Wed), another tale of decadence and sexual intrigue, this time fictional. God alone knows that this enjoyable piece of nonsense had borrowed words and themes from everywhere else. It was as though a committee of badly- read but enthusiastic TV executives had convened and brainstormed for an hour on the theme of "detective series set in expatriate Kenya, 1935". There were bits from Biggles, Out of Africa, White Mischief and several Hitchcock movies, and lines that were old when Bunter was a lad. The names were all invented by this same process: Tyburn, Lanyard, Lady Daphne Ellesmere, "Boy" Cameron, Muller (the German), und so weiter.

Tyburn, played by Trevor Eve - along with Neil Pearson, one of the most watchable men on telly - is a disgraced, rebellious copper, sent to Nairobi. You can tell he's a heroic mensch of action because (a) he is the only policeman in the entire Kenyan force who doesn't wear baggy shorts, and (b) he is what McCarthyites would have called a "premature anti-racist", beating three drunken native-abusers into a bloody pulp within seconds of his arrival. The abused native, by the way, is one of the very few signs that the films are located in a place where there actually are black people. In this costume drama, with its yellow biplane, vintage cars and lions, negroes are essentially props, to be seen in the background with baskets on their heads.

OK, says the committee, what now? First, this is the Empire. So within 40 minutes Tyburn has been called bwana, effendi and finally (thank God for Kenyan Asians) sahib. Check. Tyburn has a bigoted, corrupt boss. Check. His sidekick (Lanyard) vomits at the sight of a dead body. Check.

But all this is not ridiculous enough. Let us have a gay club owner called Chico Deville (presumably Cruella's damaged nephew); let us have the blonde love interest captured and tortured in an empty hangar by a German with an eye-patch who threatens her breasts with a cigar while muttering sadistically, "You vill tell me, liebchen!" (Really.) Let weeny Lanyard turn out to be the murderer because "She laughed, and she carried on laughing!" Let Tyburn ask him, "Do you really think that you're going to get away with this?" And finally, have Tyburn gaze at the setting red African sun, turn to the blonde, and say: "A man could lose himself in such a place."

Yes, indeed. But how much would it cost? On Wish You Were Here? (ITV, Mon), the travel programme, we were told what a trip to Kenya would set us back. But the whole item lasted one minute and five seconds, and was so hurried that I missed it. Which set me to wondering what these programmes are actually for.

They are - most of them - very similar. A vivacious blonde woman welcomes you in with a fantastic smile, lays before you a menu of desirable destinations (including her own), in which various personalities will spend seven minutes shopping.

On ITV, Anthea was camping in Biarritz and Dale Winton was in Milan. Winton's report exemplified the genre. He "shopped till he dropped", made a joke about how long it had taken to build the cathedral (he had met builders like that), spoke to a funny foreigner, and did loads of charming little turns to camera to show us what a love he was. It was all fantastic, stunning, gorgeous, and all that. The title of the show was, for once, an exact reflection of the contents. This was a series of unenlightening glossy postcards sent to viewers by pampered celebrities.

The main difference in Was It Good For You? (C5, Thurs) is that the latter is not glossy. The presenters here (an obligatory blonde and a young Irishman) were in Prague, because "there is more to holidays than sun, sand and sea." This is the kind of universal cliche that disfigures most of the genre. It was no surprise that in Prague people "shopped till they dropped", and that the cathedral had taken 500 years to complete, because of "a problem with the builders". Haha! Where do they get them from? It is very hard to write like that on purpose. This was a postcard from someone you don't like.

Holiday (BBC1, Tues) had Jill Dando - whom I adore - in "stylish" Paris. In a wonderful penthouse apartment. This, I was delighted to discover, cost only a very reasonable pounds 565 per week. Based (we were quickly told) on six sharing. While yet another young Irishman blarnily tested Lanzarote for two minutes, I worked out that Jill's apartment would actually set one back about three and a half grand a week. I think we should have been told that.

Then there is The Travel Show (BBC2, Wed), introduced by, er, a vivacious blonde woman (Juliet Morris). And here we encountered, with the Independent's Simon Calder, the first bit of actual writing for television so far. Calder (and, to an extent, Fi Glover, his companion) had really gone to the country (in this case, Hungary) rather than simply using it as a changed studio background against which to perform yet another flawless piece to camera. Calder, at least, is the real thing.

Then, finally, just as I was beginning to think that some piece of deep psychological research must have shown that we will not go anywhere on holiday unless we believe that a young, grinning blonde woman is going to be there too, Travelog (C4, Tues) appeared. This, rather formidably, was billed as being presented by two disabled people, and I made the mental note that this was a level of worthiness that I could do without.

Wrong. Firdaus Kanga's trip - wheelchair and all - to the Cote d'Azur was magical. He wrote beautifully about the place and his relationship with it, and s poke his own words in a lovely, gentle, camp voice. I wanted to go there at once and experience its decadence. And I'd take Jon Snow, Trevor Eve, Simon Calder and Firdaus with me.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
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

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

    Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Fitter / Kitchen Fitters Mate

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This designer and manufacturer ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee