Sheer cupidity

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The Independent Online
So I went to the editor and I said, "What has Anthea Turner got that I haven't? Carlton TV are about to pay her a million pounds a year to dress up as Cupid and bring lovers together, while the Independent can only put up a pitiful sum to keep me in the style to which I wish to become accustomed. Is this fair?"

He fixed me with his gimlet eye and replied thus: "When the Sunday Express runs a two-page feature on what you keep in your garage, and the Calvin Klein photographer tells you that the shot will look better if you keep your thighs slightly parted - then come back to me and ask for more money."

Perhaps, I thought, the problem is me, because my reaction to Anthea, whether presenting the BBC's lottery show, or hosting breakfast television, is of sudden and irrational violence. She is one of two causes of what might be termed "auto-nausea" in me. The other is the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Both share a ploppy relentlessness; Hopkins in the metre and rhythm of his verse ("glory be to God for dappled things") and for choosing to lament the drowning of a few German nuns; Turner in her unvarying, bouncy cheerfulness.

But this is prejudice. These TV wallahs don't shell out millions without doing their homework. Perhaps it is her very artlessness that is misleading me. One explanation is that Anthea is truly post-modern: by being perpetually the same she becomes somehow transparent, leaving the viewer to construct a reality out of the television performance. Thus it isn't Anthea who makes me sick - it's me who makes me sick.

And - warming to this theme - there is more to be said in her defence. Telly is harder than it looks. I know this because not so long ago I was myself auditioned by the BBC Light Entertainment Department to host a new "people" show - strangely similar to hers. Who's Your Father? was designed to bring illegitimate children face-to-face with their biological dads - but only if the kids could pick them out from among a group of contestants. To help, they would be furnished with an album of old photographs and a do-it-yourself DNA testing kit. I had reluctantly agreed to the BBC's conditions of employment (that I pretend to be homosexual and change my name to Barry Michaelmore), when the money ran out. But the experience made me appreciate just what skills Anthea deploys every time she appears.

But above all, there are Anthea's looks, which some have described as beautiful. They're wrong - she ain't. Helen of Troy was beautiful. Cleopatra was beautiful. But if Menelaus of Sparta had been married to Anthea Turner, would a thousand ships have been launched? And you must admit that Anthea's variety is a bit on the finite side, so custom stales pretty quickly.

Which leads on to the "girl next door" theory: that Ms T is, in essence, Felicity Kendal without the sense of danger. Sir John Junor - a fan - writes of her "fizzing with vitality". According to this idea, she has taken over from Anne Diamond as the healthy, smiley, energetic and anodyne lass who promises to look after your guinea pigs when you go away, if you let her keep her hockey-stick in the hall.

I don't buy this. Where somebody becomes so very famous, one must search for a bigger, more rooted attraction. Which is why I believe that the Cupid role is so significant. Cupid was not a girl, but a chubby, pretty, naked boy.

The real - and secret - appeal of Anthea Turner is that she reminds us not of the girl, but of the boy next door. With her taste for waistcoats, trousers and cassocks she is the cute chorister, innocent and cheeky, who finds resonance in the arrested homoeroticism of so many British men. Put her in shorts and she'll cause a sensation. And just wait until she plays Dick Whittington.