TV drowns in ordure of the day

Back in May, when the sun shone so early and unexpectedly that it caught on the hop the flabby-thighed and knock-kneed morons whose shorts mercifully remained in mothballs, this column’s eye swivelled and focused on Min Clough.

Min, who may be male, or female, or, as is increasingly the fashion in liberal left circles, a bit of both, works for BBC Documentaries. He, she, or it had placed an advertisement in the popular press appealing for a response from people who had been refused membership of a private club. In the absence of any further information, the inference was that the corporation was trawling the populace for confessional fodder.

The vogue for programmes in which ordinary members of the public lay their innermost torments before the curious gaze of millions has created a brisk demand for people who are at once victims and exhibitionists. Gathered together in the studio, these hapless chumps are encouraged by an egomaniacal strutter such as Esther Rantzen to open their hearts before the camera.

It started in America of course. There the taste is for extremely fat people to sit alongside each other, usually three abreast, in front of a baying mob and declare, between body-wrenching sobs, that their live-in partners have BO, halitosis and piles and they intend to leave them there and then. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, but with a camera on them, the afflicted partners register whatever emotions are thought appropriate. In Act Three, the two warring factions meet face-to-face and slug it out to the boos and cheers of an audience which, if it were to pool its brain cells, would be hard put to outwit a backward gnat.

It is a basic law of television that mind-numbing, sick-bag-filling detritus expands to fill the broadcast capacity available. In the US, which is ahead of us, the process is automatic: people to whom life has dealt a busted flush line up outside the TV studios and plead to be allowed to spread the wreckage of their existence across the screen. In Britain, there remains a vestigial legacy of seemliness and reticence, which, though fast disappearing, forms an irritating barrier to sound programme making.

That is where Min Clough comes in. Since we have yet to reach that stage of evolutionary development in which the sick-hearted, the desperate, the browned-off and the thoroughly miserable automatically seek solace and healing through the cathode tube, it is necessary to goad them out from beneath their stones. Hence last May’s advertisement calling for all those to come forward who had applied to join a private club and had been rejected. I do not know whether or not Min’s plea bore fruit. Perhaps a programme was successfully put together and broadcast.

Perhaps not.

There is an old saying that you cannot step into the same river twice. That is not, however, true of the coursing stream of ordure that is daytime television. Just as you can step into the same cowpat twice, you can watch Oprah, Rikki, Vanessa, Esther, Kilroy as many times as you like and instantly find yourself up to the eyeballs in muck unchanging. It matters little, therefore, what Min’s shovel brings forth. It is the very act of shovelling that is important. And since it is an arduous task, Min does not toil alone.

Last week, in the London Evening Standard, the following small ad appeared: “Calling the Broken Hearted! BBC Television is desperate to hear from people who have been dumped! How have you coped? Perhaps you’ve got your own back on them? Is being jilted the best thing that’s ever happened to you? Is revenge the only way to mend a broken heart? If you have experience of this, please call Michael asap.”

I may be wrong, but it would seem that Michael is himself a promising candidate for TV soul-baring. “Have you ever found yourself in a job you cannot do? Have you shovelled sewage on behalf of a public service broadcasting institution and been found wanting? Is holding your nose and lowering yourself beneath the surface the only way to cope?”

Maybe Michael is a beginner, fresh down from Oxford with a first in Classics and over-anxious to please. Perhaps he has flopped in the past and been given his last chance. Do Min and the others in the gang point at him and remember amid giggles his failure to unearth a single person of diminished growth who had been unlucky in love?

Whatever the reason, he is plainly teetering on the edge of his nerves. He is not interested in hearing from people who have been dumped, he is desperate. He says so himself. And he wants a response as soon as possible. For Michael, time is running out. Should he fail to produce a satisfactory quota of mad women who have cut up their former lovers’ suits and poured paint stripper onto their BMWs, he is for the chop.

Television is a harsh, demanding world fit only for hardened professionals. Michael should have known that when he applied for the job. Nor is it going to get any easier. The advent of digital TV means a thousand more channels.

That’s a thousand more Mins, each chasing a finite quarry of emotional wrecks.

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