Television review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Nature was not kind to the turkey in the first place, giving it a neck like a perished hot-water bottle and a ground-hugging body reminiscent of a feathered Volkswagen. But we have been unkinder still, genetically tinkering with the luckless bird until it can barely totter along beneath its own weight. And, as The Turkey Business (C4) revealed, it doesn't stop there. Intensively farmed birds are often too distended to mate, so that turkey sex is always a three-in-a-shed affair - the principal role being taken by an overalled man with a pipette and horny hands. Conception and hatching are followed by a short life in the twilit world of the turkey barracks and if you survive being trampled or stifled by your companions, you face a cramped ride to the abattoir (think of Oxford Circus tube station on Christmas Eve and add a broken arm).

The Turkey Business managed to film all this with a secret camera attached to a researcher disguised as a casual worker. The result was a decidedly emetic view of the nation's favourite seasonal dish. Around 80,000 tons of turkey meat will be consumed on Christmas Day, which is, in the unfestive equation offered to you by the film, an incalculable amount of distress and pain. Of course, there's no feast without cruelty but in the case of intensively farmed birds the ratio of animal pain to human pleasure has lost all sense of decorum. At the bottom end of the market, turkey for human consumption can cost less than dog food, which is hardly surprising given what it tastes like - that pallid white flesh, like a bath flannel dipped in weak chicken stock. A wretched life makes for a wretched meal.

"I have a very simple rule," explained Professor John Webster, an expert in animal husbandry, "if a farmer can show you his animals and say... 'Don't these look magnificent', then there's probably not too much wrong with the system." This doesn't actually allow for unimaginative farmers but the objection is academic in the case of Bernard Matthews. For entirely understandable reasons he doesn't want anyone to see how he produces and processes his birds, largely because what you see is a transparent breach of the Government's legislation on turkey welfare. The invisible camera tripod, moving from rearing sheds to the abattoir production line, had obviously secured the confidences of his co-workers, who tutored him in the usual way of handling the birds (as if they were already dead) and the manner you adopted whenever the inspectors were around (as if they were new-born babies). Bootiful? Bleedin 'orrible more like.

No Sleep Till Sheffield (BBC2) was an engaging contribution to a debased genre - the on-tour documentary. In this case the band was Pulp and their gawky lead singer Jarvis Cocker, two yards of cold water with an untidy fringe and bottle-bottom specs. "You see," said one fan, "the thing is there's no malice in him. He's a nice boy." Most of his fans don't talk like this. They shout "Give us a shag, Jarvis", but this was Jarvis's Nan, introduced as such in the on-screen credit, and ably supported by Jarvis's mum, who expressed some bemusement that her son had become a sex object. "I liked Steve McQueen," she said, "unfortunately he's dead and he was very short." Jarvis suffers from neither of these drawbacks but even so, he has had to wait some 10 years for his particular brand of misfit charm to come into fashion.

He is a nice boy actually, laid back about his popularity but not so pompous that he would try to disown the pleasure of it - "I'd like to be taken seriously as an artist... and a shag as well. Cheers." And though he confessed somewhat wistfully that he no longer felt he quite belonged in Sheffield, his home town, he is obviously happy to trail clouds of domesticity behind him; "E's like your dad when you go on 'oliday, I suppose", was how he described the organisational duties of the tour manager.

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