This adaptation of Jilly Cooper's seminal feminist novel opens with a title sequence of creamy bits of naked woman having gold jewellery drawn across them by a man's hand - to the sound of "Mad About the Boy". It is as calculated as any advertisement, and as effective.
Scene One takes us to a boudoir in which a pert-nippled American woman is tickling the washboard tum of a 6'1" Adonis. Her husband is away. His Jack Russell is reclining at the end of the bed (odd touch that, but read on). Television sex is well underway (lots of moans and scratching of backs - like bears do with trees in natural-history films), when the husband returns home with a cross-bow. Washboard runs out naked using the dog to shelter his privates ("no cruelty to animals was used in the making of this film. The dog herself requested the part"), and then - somehow (dog tenue-en-place) - climbs a tall tree, while being chased by Dobermans.
Our athletic hero is a boyish tennis player called Lysander (his extant brothers are Alexander and Hector; Hercules presumably is dead, strangled with his own serpent). And Lysander is not predatory, it's just that every woman in the world wants his first service, and what can a guy do?
Turn his talent into bucks, that's what. For 10 grand a shot he will transform wealthy middle-aged frumps whose husbands are cheating on them (cue the nubile secretary, desk, dropped pencil and implied fellatio scene), into babes. This he will do by being a combined personal trainer, clothes advisor, masseur and (at their insistence) love pump.
His first client - the betrayed wife of a record producer - sports a garish gingham tent, her hair in rats-tails and her stomach pushed out as far as it will go. Somehow you just know that she can do better. Sure enough, 20 broadcast minutes later - transformed through jogging, shopping and flirting - she attends the ball. Or, in Lysander's immortal words, "I'm going to stay glued to you all evening. Just like the eyes of every man in this room!" (Could you write a line like that? You could? Then go out there and make money, baby.)
Where was I? Oh yes, there is just time for Cinders to seduce Lysander before her husband is ripping the Galliano from her pecs. "God, you smell good!" he pants. "It's the Jack Russell!" she doesn't reply.
Next week, the conductor's wife. And the fading chanteuse. And (one fears) the fading chanteuse's 18-year-old daughter.
But is there anywhere a woman who could do this stuff for men? There certainly is someone who'll do it for party leaders. And this week Peter Mandelson - The Man Who Makes Politicians Jealous - was interviewed by psychologist Oliver James in The Chair (BBC2, Wed). As is now well known, our Pete came, he cried, he conquered. But this was no Broadcast News- style pretence, as some have suggested. The tears were genuine, the answers truthful.
Those expecting a robot with teeth must have been taken aback by that smile, those rather beautiful brown eyes and the fluency and archaic emotionalism of his words. Perhaps now they better understand why Tony Blair doesn't just rate him, but likes him. It is his charm and apparent openness that makes this man so attractive to his friends. He has close-up charisma. And it is strange for me to see a man I have known for so long, so utterly transformed. It is all too easy to underestimate those who are close to you. But he let his slip show once. When, speaking about the former leadership hopeful Bryan Gould's denunciation of him, he said that this was a "result of his [Gould's] own disappointments. It's not what he really thinks." Oh yes it is, Peter. You know it is.
The appearance of studio tears almost always leads someone to query the format. Is it right for us to know where X was when his father died? Well, if we're not entitled to ask, it's the end of revealing interviews, or the best chat-shows. Nevertheless the question should be put, and so it was, later that evening, on Newsnight (BBC2).
What interested me here was the reaction of Oliver James to criticism. His upper lip quivering petulantly, his eyes narrowing, he told the sensible- shoed woman from Voice of the Viewer (or whatever it's called) - who was politely putting the "repression is good" argument - that he was "interested in why you are on this programme". The implication was that she must be some kind of hysteric, bent on revenging herself upon Mr James for something a man down the road had done to her when she was eight. The true explanation, however, was almost certainly that some junior Newsnight researcher - tasked by the duty editor with the almost impossible job of finding someone to take on Oliver James - had begged and cajoled Sensible Shoes to go on the show. In other words James was busy threatening the wrong person with instant psycho-analysis.
For all the hype, Mr James's act is really a subtle version of what Ruby Wax does all the time. He asks "when did you first have sex?", as though it were a scientific question ranking alongside "how did you split that atom?". She, on the other hand, asks it out of healthy prurience. And it is more often her approach that gets the revelations.
Her latest incarnation is as a dinner-party host on Ruby (BBC2, Mon- Wed). Although this happens in a studio, there is real dinner. Indeed, to increase the sense of realism, Ruby gets up and goes out to the loo in most editions. Now this is clearly a ploy; for most live TV performers the bladder and genitals shrink to hard little nuts during transmission. You'd need a crowbar and a catheter to get anything in or out.
Most nights her guests consist of two women and a man. And the chap often gets left out (unless he's Rupert Everett who really was wonderful on Monday's show). On Wednesday the token bloke was flavour of the month Alan Davies aka Jonathan Creek.
Davies - who had taken the producer's injunction to eat the food too seriously - had his mouth full during the early exchanges, and fell behind. Then, having finished his sausage, he ribbed Ruby (who is old enough to be Jack Russelled) about her age.
Davies is too young to know that when a woman of 40 suggests that she does not want to talk about how old she is, she really, really means it. From that moment on Ruby shunned him. She was full of smiles and questions for Anna Massey and Glenys Kinnock, but for Davies, her shoulder was cold.
Eventually this led to the most desperate conversational gambit I have ever heard on a chat-show. The subject had turned to parenthood, and the women were getting along famously talking about their kids. Then, suddenly, during a half-second pause, Davies loudly announced that: "MY MOTHER DIED OF LEUKAEMIA WHEN I WAS SIX!" Total silence. Even Ruby (a mother herself) melted, and turned to him at last. And you could almost hear her thinking, "Eat your heart out, Oliver James!"
And eat your heart out, Ida Staples. Ida, 72 and beyond the reach of tennis players, was one of the heroines of the Open University team that had stormed to the final of University Challenge (BBC2, Wed).
Now I appeared once on this show, back in the days of Bamber Gascoigne. I will draw a veil over what happened on that night, though I will reveal that I stood next to Mr Gascoigne in the gents just before we began, and had to fight an absurd teenage desire to stare. Anyway, we went down to the kind of defeat that the Open University had been handing out to various callow colleges in this series.
The show - which still opens with a Nocturne for Kazoo and Handbells composed by AN Idiot - was disappointingly won by Magdalen College, Oxford. Or more specifically by a pudgy, but brilliant blond called Colin Andress. And Colin was one of those philosophers who could nevertheless calculate in seconds the square cubitage of Noah's Ark; a Man who Makes Reviewers Jealous.Reuse content