Editor-At-Large: Germaine can pick up where I left off

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I'm flattered Germaine Greer has followed my lead and decided that reality television is something to be embraced, not derided. She's already risen to the double challenge of Bez, the man who seems to speak - but not a language we know - and John McCririck, a species I had thought was extinct, lumbering around in his vast sagging underpants like a beached whale. But is a week in Elstree sharing a sauna with Caprice as tough as my time in the jungle with a man in a pink blouse besotted by a dead princess and another comfortable talking only to emus? The woman's got heated outdoor seating, a sauna and a bathroom with a hot shower. I had rats running over my feet, a toilet that was a hole in the ground and no-where to wash except the river.

But let's not be petty; being in any kind of confined space with people you'd never meet at the university library must be a challenge. At the moment Germaine is confounding her critics being dignified, not too bossy, keeping her thoughts on politics to bite-size easily digested chunks, and only occasionally flaunting her impeccable Italian with new multi-lingual pal Brigitte.

The casting of the new series of Celebrity Big Brother is fascinating: for the first time programme-makers have realised that peopling these sagas with twentysomething bimbos and airheads just doesn't make for good viewing. Now they've had the guts to include four feisty women, all well over 30. The men, in comparison, are simple creatures, a bit like decorative seat coverings or wall hangings. They can all contribute something in their limited way: cuteness (Kenzie), fossilised reactionary pub banter (McCririck), bland inoffensive charm (Jeremy who?) and damaged incoherence (Bez). But they are not going to be the reason why nearly six million people tuned into the opening show of the series last Thursday night. That's almost one in four of all people watching television in the UK, before anybody tries to tell us that these shows appeal only to the very young or very stupid. And did you see who took advertising time in key slots in Friday night's show? The Guardian and The Times newspapers - not exactly down-market fare.

When I appeared on I'm a Celebrity one member of the Sisterhood wrote in a tabloid that I'd lost my marbles, that I'd betrayed the cause, lost the plot. She expanded in great detail how revealing my acres of cellulite and wrinkly early-morning face just made me seem a desperate has-been jumping on a bandwagon dominated by youth. A couple of weeks later I had proved her wrong, and every day since I've been back in the UK dozens of women come up to me in the street and thank me for representing the middle-aged, the opinionated and the non-glamorous female on television. They sent me Christmas cards; they wrote me letters and they still can't see what crime, if any, I committed. Now Germaine is set to do the same. But what that lone dissenting female journalist did not realise is that by appearing in the most popular genre, you are not succumbing to a tidal wave of rubbish; you are subverting it from within. Sure, Germaine wrote a long piece in The Observer attacking reality television back in 2001, calling the fans "worse than voyeurs". But she's also a clever anarchist. Who else would have reminded us that a woman created champagne and tried to steer the conversation around to politics and the current tsunami disaster?

Germaine is never boring, never predictable. She's good company and extremely strong. Above all, she is a caring person, and one who will always bring the highest standards to her work, be it cooking or cleaning for her new set of housemates or her latest piece of work on Aborigine culture. Finally, she simply doesn't give a damn what other people think.

It's interesting that some people have a view of "feminism" that's stuck back in the 1960s. This series of Big Brother shows just how those campaigning feminists such as Germaine have subsequently empowered all sorts of women from all sorts of backgrounds. Lisa I'Anson used to work for me as a television presenter and she certainly doesn't take orders from anyone. Brigitte Nielsen, like Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones, is a one-off, a brand. I don't care what she does for a living - she's iconic, fun, confident larger than life. Not someone who grovels for a pay cheque. Caprice, still allegedly 33, but fair play. She has parlayed her looks into a successful underwear business and a decent career. All these women have far more resources to amuse and entertain us than the sad members of the opposite sex on parade. In a week when Desperate Housewives romped home with massive ratings for Channel 4, it's clear that women, not men, make compulsive viewing.

My 17 days in Australia were a real education. I had to reach out and uncover new depths of tolerance I didn't know existed. Can you honestly say that the final episode of I'm a Celebrity with three blokes was as entertaining as any previous night which included women? Unlike me, Germaine lives alone in a large house in the country. She likes talking to plants, not teenage rappers such as the barely articulate Kenzie. Is she conducting research for her next volume on the sad decline into redundancy of the male species? Germaine must resist the temptation to throttle McCririck. We must vote to ensure that the Sisterhood doesn't lose out this time around.

¿ Andrea Levy's novel Small Island, which traces the lives of Jamaicans coming to Britain just after the Second World War, has already won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and now the Whitbread for best novel, making it a favourite to win the Whitbread book of the year award in a couple of weeks' time. I enjoyed Small Island, but if I'm truthful, it was a bit of a slog. It seemed more like a worthy thesis than a joyous piece of storytelling, whereas the novels by the late Colin MacInnes chronicling the lives of immigrants in London during the 1950s and early 1960s (Absolute Beginners, City of Spades and Mr Love and Justice) are far more atmospheric. Having plodded through Booker winner Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, I now think there's a conspiracy to prevent anything accessible winning these awards. I'm working through the output of the great American novelist Paul Auster; there's a writer you simply can't put down.

¿ Another week, another set of disappointing sales figures from Marks and Spencer. Like Woolworths M&S seems to have had a disastrous Christmas and stores are full of unsold stock it is trying to offload in the sales. Meanwhile, Sainbury's has a completely different problem - many of its central London shops had no fresh food on sale because a computer which predicts stock levels and direct supplies had been shut down over Christmas. Sometimes I think a new career in retailing beckons - a 30-second glance around the pink and beige clothing in M&S or the feeble selection of electronic gear in Woolies tells any discerning customer that these stores are on the ropes. Isn't it time for more women (who are the best shoppers after all) at the helm of these male-run enterprises?

Comments