So the Big Brother juggernaut shudders to an inglorious halt on Tuesday, and with it, supposedly, the phenomenon of apparently sane people doing irredeemably humiliating things, in the full knowledge that they will appear on national telly.
No more bunk-ups in the shared Jacuzzi. No more using an empty wine bottle as a speculum. No more furtive masturbation in the toilet with one hand up against the camera and the whole room wired for sound. Unless, of course, someone buys the programme and takes it even further downmarket, in which case all of this will be compulsory. And that'll just be the producers.
In the time that has passed since Melanie Hill first plucked her bikini line in the garden, though, it seems to have become a national obsession to parade our shame in public. On www.beonscreen.com, Channel 4 is now searching for teenagers aged 16-plus who would like to be given sex and relationship advice on their new show. Teenagers worried about STIs, losing their virginity and "how much is too much porn?" (quite a lot, says Channel 4) are urged to sign up. The crazy thing is, they probably will.
British reserve, it appears, is a thing of the past. How else do you explain the success of programmes such as C4's Embarrassing Bodies, in which absurdly good-looking male and female doctors examine the suppurating limbs and features of patients who often claim they've been too embarrassed to see a doctor for many years? Does Dr Christian administer a powerful narcotic that makes them suddenly want their bosses to see their naked and scrofulous bits in hideous close-up?
And it's not just on TV. Open the Daily Mail, and if it's not the day for giant rats invading Bradford or immigrants giving you cancer, there will probably be a picture of a shamefaced teenager and her slightly scary mother looking very cross. She is cross, it will turn out, because a Politically Correct doctor (probably an immigrant) has given her child the morning-after pill and Nobody's Told Her! The expression on the daughter's face will tell you exactly why she didn't confide in her mother. She didn't want to be ducked in the millpond in the national media so that all her schoolfriends will call her a slut. There's nothing like a public flogging to teach a girl a lesson.
Despite all of this, though, I was still astonished last week by a story in The Sun. A pretty young woman from Penryn in Cornwall appeared in a double-page spread to explain, as the headline delicately put it, that "I'm so desperate for a baby I grab strangers for sex on nights when I am most fertile". Lara Carter, a 25-year-old assistant office manager (until last week, at least), was pictured in close-up holding a condom and a pin. She explained how she meets men in bars before "getting their first name and asking if they have any STDs". Inexplicably she is still not pregnant – either because the condoms are full of spermicide or because she is riddled with the clap. "I haven't told my family," she adds. She has now.
Perhaps I am underestimating the charming Ms Carter. Maybe it is an elaborate trick to avoid being pestered for sex. Possibly the paper paid her enough to cover professional psychiatric help. There's only one thing that is certain about the lovely Lara and the humiliation junkies: they won't be having a bunk-up anywhere, any time soon.
Budgiegate: One election too close to call, one pair of trunks (too small)
Daniel Craig is famously tetchy about compliments on his appearance in those little blue trunks. He once called my colleague Johann Hari "a fucking fool" for having the impertinence to mention it. It seems a little churlish, much like the way that the bottle-blonde Mariella Frostrup whinged on last week about "the challenges still faced" by poor wretched blonde women who struggle tragically with misguided accusations of being dumb. (Oh, go and get a real problem, Thicky.) But still men are not learning from Mr Craig's experience of appearing in his scanty panties and never living it down.
Step forward the Australian opposition leader, Tony Abbott, who stands accused of jeopardising the Liberals' chances in the election by bringing the party into disrepute. Mr Abbot is a staunch Catholic who once studied for the priesthood, and he takes a firm stance on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But who can take him seriously now that he's become known as the Budgie Smuggler?
So frequently has he been spotted in his teeny-weeny trunks that the Liberal leader is becoming synonymous around the world with the budgie that he is smuggling somewhere about his person.
The Australians are smart people who have voted with their consciences, but have they have made the right choice? It could be hard for the world to think sensibly about their prime minister's policies on immigration if our minds can't help turning to the last little shrimp on the barbie.
Only 57 years to go, dear sisters...
A person on Facebook claiming to be Ann Widdecombe says she is a fan of a Facebook page called "Anti Feminism". I opened it up and found its hypothesis: "Dikes are ugly!" Which, to be fair, is the level of argument you expect from people who still can't get their little heads around the concept of equality.The same day I read in a Chartered Management Institute report that the gender pay gap is closing. Male managers now earn only £10,000 more than female counterparts. At this rate, it will be pay equality in 57 years. An Equalities Office spokesman said the coalition is committed to a "hands-off" approach to regulation and has "not decided" whether to impose mandatory pay audits in the private sector, as Labour planned. That's basically shouting, "Dikes are ugly!" but using longer words.
Final chapter of a literary life
Farewell to Sir Frank Kermode, who died last week. The critic, prolific author and co-founder of the London Review of Books also gave us his theory of "intelligent smattering": "One of the great benefits of seriously reading English is you're forced to read a lot of other things. We're all smatterers in a way, I suppose. But a certain amount of civilisation depends on intelligent smattering." I went to the launch of his last book at his publisher Lord Weidenfeld's apartment. The two 90-year-olds threw a good party, with champagne, literary gossip and potato latkes. I wonder what he'd have made of the week's education drama, in which some A-level students have failed to get university places. "I don't hold the view that reading English is a soft option," he recently said. "It should be a severe option, restricted to those people who are qualified to do it." Sir Frank, I raise my glass to you.Reuse content