TELEVISION : Eating humble pie with the upper crust

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I WOKE up on Friday worrying about the Gordon-Duff-Penningtons. If they don't find pounds 2m, they may have to abandon their ancestral castle, and then where would we be? For, as Tony Parsons, Esq, explains in Parsons on Class (BBC2), the Gordon-Duff-Penningtons have been living there for almost a thousand years! What concerns me is that, during the same period, my ances- tors were forced to move. All over Europe. Tracing my line back a further 100,000 years, I think of my African forebears, trudging along. What we could have done with was a castle in Cumbria.

When England is descending into a new feudal age of sweatshop conditions, in which no one has any job security and everyone is ultimately "redundant", where hospitals turn away the dying, the Government is corrupt and arrogant, and the monarchy merely laughs at us - Tony Parsons asks us to dig deep into our tattered pockets to help pay for the Gordon-Duff-Penningtons' roof to be mended, so they won't have to sell the Gainsboroughs (which are at present tucked under the piano because the walls are so damp). The GDPs' main claim to fame, and to our compassion, is the fact that 60 or 70 years ago they saved a sickly bear from a wretched existence in Harrods' pet shop. They're nice sorts - even the local vicar says "they're quite normal people now". Come the next Peasants' Revolt, their heads may well be saved (on account of the bear), but let's hear no more about hand-outs - it should all be the other way around.

"There is much to admire about the upper class. With their limitless self-confidence and their lightness of touch, they always seem at ease with the world," says Tony, who aspires to limitless self-confidence himself. The result of GDP pere's self-confidence is a lame speech to tourists about his house; which provokes in its turn meaningless banalities from Tony, such as: "In a land where some people can't trace their lineage as far back as their father, something of real value will be lost when the last of the aristocracy are gone," all delivered in that off-putting voice of his. It's not the accent that's so unpleasant, but his tone. Even when he tries to sound tender, sincere or poetic, it comes out as a sneer, ideal only for expressions of distaste. Meanwhile, he has taken to wearing Peter York's three-piece suits, often pin-striped, and posing with a rifle draped nonchalantly over his arm. The trouble is that Parsons in a three-piece suit looks like a boiled shrimp. Holding the GDPs' owl, he eyed it as if it might eat him.

The three-piece suit and abrasive voice were to be found also on C4 this week (Without Walls: Equal but Different), offering the latest in the current wave of anti-feminist diatribes. If men only knew how unattractive they are when complaining about women's rights, they might shut up. But Tony was full of his own revulsion, and determined to express it. "Too much to drink tends to remove a woman's pride, dignity and underpants, usually in that order," he informed us. Does it really matter in what order? The poor fellow desperately needs an editor. Women's disadvantages in pre-feminist times, according to Tony, amounted to "going to Tupperware parties and doing a little light vacuuming". What's more, not all men are rapists: "Most men have to work up the courage to do a little light flirting." His whole argument was a little light. "You can fake an orgasm but you can't fake an erection, and for that we should be truly grateful," was his concluding non sequitur. Er, surely at least half the population would be grateful if men could fake erections.

The only silver lining was Kathy Lette, whose observation that "Men go from puberty to adultery" echoed TV's obsession of the week. If Ricki Lake (C4) is to be believed, in American parlance cheating partners are called "dogs". Several jovial men were questioned in front of their girlfriends about their indiscretions. Under such pressure one ended up proposing on stage, while another was voted worst dog and literally sent to a doghouse in the corner. To make sure no one forgot the subject of the programme, a real dog lay on set, chewing happily on a bone. Rather unfair on dogs, I thought, who are remarkable for their fidelity.

Mistresses (BBC1), made by the same people as Hollywood Men, was a hotchpotch of laughs at adulterers' expense. There was a straying sheep farmer who spoke of the smell of a new body; Peter Stringfellow, who embarked on a second youth with a pink-haired woman he met at his club; a guy whose third marriage ended after three months when he went to buy a wedding ring and fell in love with the jeweller; some goofy Blackpool landladies with vaguely juicy stories to tell. Lord Bath, in a horrid grey and yellow cardy that suggested a difficulty in keeping warm, talked of his many "wifelets" (the number has now reached 60). Judge Pickles longed to undress a young woman - not a pretty sight (the judge longing, not the woman undressing). There was an ill-matched pair, previously neighbours, who still live in the same cul-de-sac, opposite the man's ex-wife. And, oddest of all, a one-eyed man with a long straggly moustache who shares his bed with cats, children and two contented women. Which one gets to have sex with him "is no bigger a deal than if two people both happen to want to use the loo at the same time - one of them will just have to wait", explained wife number one. Sexual incontinence is the hubby's preserve.

Straight From the Heart: Dangerous Liaisons (BBC2) took a much more emotional approach to the subject, placing four adulterers in dark clothing against dark backgrounds and getting them to confess all. They gave moving testimonies of the chaotic antics of the human heart. One woman with MS had a risky affair with the man from BT, but they ended up living happily ever after. Others weren't so lucky. Which reminds me that Blind Date (ITV), that particularly crude form of match-making, has been put on hold for a while in favour of The Shane Richie Experience (ITV), which can only be watched by the truly robust. Here, raucous engaged couples compete to see who deserves to get married. None of them, of course.

More mischievous and strangely sweet is God's Gift (ITV) a late-night dating show that takes male pride as its mock premise. Five candidates compete, in a series of ridiculous tests, to be crowned God's Gift, after which the winner gets to date the girl of his choice in the audience. But this week it was the gay version. If Tom Robinson in Mistresses was right about the male antipathy to commitment - and that male gay commitments are therefore doubly fraught with difficulty - TV dating shows are surely their ideal arena. There's little chance of ending up permanently entangled, and men make a livelier audience. The skilfully spontaneous host, Davina McCall, looked quite scared sometimes. Running around in her little mini- skirt, she managed to poke one member of the audience in the eye with her notecards. A strand of hair which she'd decided to chew briefly followed her mouth around for the rest of the programme. But what the contestants were going through was even more excruciating. Contestant number one did the splits, number two tried to eat ice cream suggestively, number three - wearing Roman Orgy lattice-work leather gear - climbed with much show of the buttocks into a bathtub, number four frolicked with a shower device, number five extracted some trousers from a fridge (the meaning of which I can't help you with), and they all licked syrup out of volunteers' navels. Stewart, an unseen voice from above (possibly God), laughed delightedly at number three, whom he dubbed Julius Caesar, and made lecherous comments throughout. In the end, though - as in last week's hetero show - whatever their respective talents, the most stereotypically good-looking man won. The only real difference was that gay men seem to lick belly- buttons with more feeling.

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