TV Reviews: Dover; Hotel; Holiday Reps

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ted and Anita were first seen ticking their little boy off for picking his nose on the coach taking them to a Menorcan festival. Not long afterwards Ted was dangling upside down 20 feet above the ground after a retaining wall had given way under pressure of numbers.

To the great good fortune of the programme-makers this incident had been captured on video and they relished it so much that they showed it to you twice.

There is something almost pheromonal about the television schedules at times. A few months ago commissioning editors caught a heady whiff of the success of reality-soaps like Airport and Driving School and now it seems the poor dears can scarcely think of anything else.

They are in a doc-soap rutting frenzy and as a result the screen is awash with the damn things. Hardly an institution in the land can be without its attendant camera crew, hoping to pan a few fragments of emotional gold from the great dirty river of our daily lives. Coming soon: Northbound, Exit 17 - a study of the Breughelesque slice of life that is the Watford Gap service station - like all such programmes the credit sequence will feature montages of dramatic highpoints, intercut with portrait cameos of the principal characters (often introduced by their Christian name, as if they are already our friends.)

That's a fantasy (I hope) but the real things are only marginally less feeble in their attempt to squeeze some quick profit out of the franchise. ITV's Dover, for example, is a haplessly transparent knock-off of Airport - another serial study of the people who use and operate a great transport hub.

There are the same grumpy or expectant tourists, the same wily customs men just failing to find the evidence that will nail the passenger whose face has been given the bathroom window treatment, the same busy women with clipboards fussing about approaching deadlines and missing passengers. Given that ferry tickets are printed on an airline format and that transit architecture leans to the same bland identity all over the world, you could actually cut some scenes from this into Airport and no one would be any the wiser. The voice-over offers the same pointless statistics (21 million passengers use Dover Ferry port in a year, but would you have felt any differently if he had said 11 million or 31?) and the same clock- tapping insistence that every event, however humdrum or routine, is a cliffhanger ("Time is running out" is the indispensable phrase.)

The BBC is at least a little more thoughtful in its lemming-like rush to give us too much of a good thing. Hotel, which goes out on Mondays, has cannily recognised that the entire population of Liverpool lives as if it is taking part in some continuous melodrama anyway, making them particularly obliging subjects for this genre, with its dependency on the Stormy Row and the Backstage Tiff. And Holiday Reps, which goes head to head with Dover on Wednesday nights, has identified another promising source of sexual and emotional drama, by following the fortunes of a group of Unijet representatives. This is, I suppose, the very apotheosis of the Women With Clipboards sub-theme - but it is buoyed up by a sense of youthful excitement and energy - of glamorous illusions destined to be confronted with the grim reality of the British holidaymaker, that genius of disgruntlement. It also had a genuine drama to offer you in the first episode, unlike Dover which had to work up some business about a yacht being in the way of an oncoming Channel ferry (you only saw the two vessels in the same shot once, when it immediately became clear that they were nowhere near each other).

Holiday Reps, on the other hand, offered you the tale of Ted and Anita, first seen ticking their little boy off for picking his nose on the coach taking them to a Menorcan festival. Not long afterwards Ted was dangling upside down 20 feet above the ground after a retaining wall had given way under pressure of numbers (his wife and son were injured and one bystander killed).

To the great good fortune of the programme-makers this incident had been captured on video and they relished it so much that they showed it to you twice. Holiday Reps is hardly cutting edge television (it looks strikingly similar to Ibiza Uncovered - Sky One's doc-soap about Britons in the Balearics which on Wednesday evening followed the fortunes of two 18-30 reps) but by taking the moral fun-fair of the holiday resort as its subject it will surely prove more compelling than agonies over coach parking in Dover docks.

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