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Versailles may be the filthiest TV ever but I won't let the Mary Whitehouse brigade censor it

For viewers who cannot face adult issues, there’s the red button on the corner of the remote marked off. Ask your MP how to use it

Grace Dent
Monday 14 March 2016 19:13 GMT
A scene from the trailer for the BBC's latest historical drama, said to be some of the filthiest TV ever
A scene from the trailer for the BBC's latest historical drama, said to be some of the filthiest TV ever (BBC)

On hearing the controversy over Versailles – one of the BBC’s new historical dramas, said to be some of the filthiest TV ever – I rushed to series-link it. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen might well be incensed already, which is priceless publicity, but only by personally observing every gorgeously grotty second – every regal bumming, dwarf molestation and set of juddering French tits – can I ascertain how offended I am, and report back.

I am, however I confess, a hardline supporter of showing the gruntier side of history. Sex, and our endless yearning for it, is one of the truly authentic things we have in common with our ancestors. Shagging never went out of fashion. Behind almost all snoozy tales of treaties, grudges and military might, I realised during my A-levels, are more fascinating tales of whoring and infidelity.

I may have not fully understood the Napoleonic-era Tsarist musings of Tolstoy’s War and Peace the first six times I tried to read it, but when frustrated Hélène Kuragina and womaniser Fedya Dolokhov went at it hard on the dining table in BBC1’s recent outing... this I understood.

And now Versailles bids to underline the historical rumours that Louis XIV was a right old rogue and that his court was a hotbed of carousing, cuckolding and kinky sex. This feels like perfect Sunday-night viewing to me. If it doesn’t, perhaps experiment with ITV.

Andrew Bridgen would disagree with me. “There are channels,” he says, “where, if you wish to view this sort of material, you would have to pay for it. BBC viewers don’t have a choice. They have to pay for it, whether they approve or not.”

It is quaint that Bridgen believes those encrypted channels called things like DirtyHousewifeXXX, are showing 10-part hefty-budget historical blockbusters. It’s also odd that he seems to believe the BBC should only be able to broadcast programmes for which there is a general country-wide consensus of approval.

Viewers shocked by sight of a penis in BBC One's War and Peace

In fact, it seems hazy to me whether Bridgen has actually watched the show over which he is now livid and bleating in a pearl-clutching manner. I will kindly err on the side that he has, even if Versailles has yet to be allotted a transmission date in the UK. Perhaps he watched it in France, where it was first shown? Because the other possibility is that a Conservative MP has been rooting around on the internet for an illegal stream of a mucky show in order to self-assess his levels of outrage. If that’s the case, I’d be happier funding a duck pond.

I looked more closely into Versailles to pre-prepare myself for moral unravelling. On further scrutiny, I found that the show involves female nipples, a couple in the heterosexual missionary position and scenes of gay sex – all of which is wholly commonplace in modern drama. There’s also a prince who wears women’s clothes. I wonder if it’s this that got Bridgen’s goat? Those blooming trans people, sticking their noses in everywhere!

The clips I found of the trans storyline showed a thoughtful subplot of a man in lipstick being lectured that his marriage was something of a sham. It didn’t seem remotely sexy. Indeed, the opening episode does appear to show Louis XIV with his head between a woman’s thighs, and at one point Queen Marie-Therese has sex with a man of restricted growth, but, again, this is hardly worth calling Ofcom over. In fact, I think we’re all a little bit past being surprised that people with dwarfism have sex.

I’m starting to worry that nothing in Versailles seems much worse than an episode of Hollyoaks: After Dark. If anything, I wanted it muckier.

Nevertheless, I rather enjoyed this comment from Sue Deeks, head of programme acquisition: “Versailles will be a delicious treat for BBC2 viewers.” Delicious, I think, not only for fans of corsets and cattiness, but especially for people like me who adore upsetting the third – or is it fourth? – generation of the Mary Whitehouse Brigade.

These flapping ninnies who want historical drama to be hour after hour of actors pointing at maps, the hot climax of each episode being the removal of a bonnet. Oh, these prissy prats who would snip at and censor something like Versailles, snuffing the Sun King’s flame right out.

Versailles will be transmitted – this has been confirmed – after the watershed. It will be broadcast when children have gone to bed. Or, at the very least, when they should not be watching. If you’re the sort of parent who lets your little dewdrops roam the house like savages after 9pm, informing you when they’re tired, I’m afraid their inadvertent exposure to Queen Marie-Therese being whipped into orgasmic frenzy by a bloke of restricted growth is not my concern.

Similarly, if you are reading the furore about BBC2’s Versailles and have decided it will be too much for your frail sensibilities and yet, despite this, may still in 10 weeks’ time find your TV tuned to it, then I am unsure how we can shield and protect you as a viewer.

As the MP says, there may be channels full of sex scenes I could pay for if that’s what I want from television. But for viewers who cannot face adult issues, there’s the red button on the corner of the remote marked off. Call your MP; he might give you some advice on how to press it.

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