Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Electrifying television worth dying for
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The Independent Online

Some 15 years ago, a bunch of us idling away in the features department of the Mail on Sunday concocted a list of proposals for new shows. We faxed them (curiously, without the courtesy of a reply) to then controller of BBC2, Alan Yentob. By way of offering attempted satirical flavour, one was called The Grim Reaper, Who's Next? in which rival teams of celebs, led by Lionel Blair and Una Stubbs, would tour an intensive care ward and bet (for charity) on which patient will need the morgue first.

Also on the list was the test of nerve game Electrocuties, in which good-looking young people would be blindfolded and asked to walk between London Tube stations without mishap. And so to a channel Five press release headlined "Tasering First On British TV".

"For the first time a group of men will be shot with a taser gun to demonstrate the impact of 50,000 volts going through the human body in Five's new entertainment show, Human Guinea Pigs," Anna Mason informs us. Can you believe it's never been done before? "Dan, Ollie, Nicky, Mike and Kirby ... will solve some of life's greatest mysteries." But how? "Stuart Milligan, professor at King's College, London, will use the human guinea pigs to test scientific theories. In the first episode, the human guinea pigs fly to Seattle to meet police officers ... As soon as the taser hits, the nervous system is confused and the muscles contract up to 90 times per second. Will our guinea pigs live up to the challenge?"

Will they live at all, indeed, or might one of them prove to have that congenital heart defect diagnosed only on sudden death? You can find out tonight at 7.30pm. I was about to borrow from Richard Littlejohn and observe that you could not make it up, but make it up we very nearly did, barely foreseeing back then the thing of beauty British television would become.

When a permanent replacement is found for Peter Fincham as controller of BBC1, it might be time to resubmit that list. For now we have the first show of betting, which sees acting controller Roly Keating, formerly out of Boyzone, a short priced 11-8 favourite, with Kevin Lygo of Channel 4 (my cousin by marriage, whom I have never met) next best at 7-2. Bracketed on sixes are departing Endemol boss and sewerage heir Peter Bazalgette, drama queen Jane Tranter and top ranked journalistic soothsayer William Rees-Mogg.

Next comes young BBC3 controller Danny Cohen at 9-1, and then it's Alison Sharman and former Davis Cup tennis star Buster Mottram on 12s. Jane Root is a tempting 14-1, while a clutch of contenders available at 18s includes David Liddiment, Roger Mosey, former Word presenter Huffty and Jonathan Dimbleby. It's 25-1 bar those.

Good to see Tony Benn writing in the Sun in favour of a referendum on the new, or not so new, EU treaty. It's a while since the Sun had Mr Benn psychoanalysed in absentia on its front page and declared clinically insane, and we won't hear another word about it.

From the world of publishing comes long-awaited news. A collection of Melanie Phillips's jokes is due out in time to catch the lucrative Christmas stocking market. The cover picture, by David Bailey, features the Daily Mail dolly bird pulling a Su Pollard look of faux astonishment, while wearing nothing more than one of Ken Dodd's discarded tickling sticks over that region more traditionally served by a fig leaf. This is as much as we know for now about the Mad Mel Bumper Book of Mirth, but doubtless more detail will dribble out in time.

And so, from a columnist's classic of tomorrow to one of today, and the latest installment from Undaunted (University of Real Life Press, £4.99), the achingly poignant memoir of Jon Gaunt. Last week we caught pubescent Gaunty masturbating over (not literally) the smalls of his widowed father's girlfriend "the Slag", as they dried on the washing line of his Coventry garden.

It is now 1975, and Gaunty is in the garden again, this time of the care home in which he was placed following his mother's death. "Katy and I were lying on our backs staring at the sky as we swung on the tractor tyre swing ... We giggled: she leaned over and kissed me. I loved her. She was a couple of months younger than me and she had fair hair, and a gap in her front teeth which was really sexy." Next week, in pursuance of this dental fetish, Gaunty falls in love with the veteran pundit Anthony Howard.

Jester's hats aloft to Jeremy Clarkson on joining Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde in a top 10 poll of the greatest wits in British history. Quite right too. "85p for a plastic bottle of Coke?" is the quote that seemed to clinch it for him. "I thought they'd stopped using cocaine as one of the ingredients." While we're waiting for the ribcage repair kit, would anyone happen to know who was 11th?

The last word on Nigel Dempster, finally, to I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here jailbird Lord Brocket. "Nigel was one of the old school," his lordship observed, after last week's memorial service. "Apart from being a character, he was always fair and never bitchy." Can you put a price on insight like that?

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