Normally I detest people who use laptops on crowded trains, but if you’re watching a DVD your elbows aren’t flying, and with earphones you’re no more of a nuisance to your neighbours than you would be reading a paper. So on a train crawling towards Bournemouth for the Tory conference, I set up the machine and popped in a preview disc of Trinny & Susannah Undress (ITV, Tuesday). At roughly the point where the couple they were bullying got naked and slipped behind a screen, an elegant middle-aged Frenchwoman took the seat next to me. The camera then went behind the screen and we saw the couple rubbing, stroking and kneading each other’s fleshy bits — nothing really rude, you understand, but implying a degree of pornography to come. I didn’t dare to look at the woman — she definitely didn’t seem as if she could have been cast in the old Cointreau commercial — but decided that for the moment it might be safer to watch H.G. Wells: War with the World (BBC2, Saturday) Silly me. Within minutes, Rebecca West was on top of the author, humping gleefully. I should have taken Debbie Does Dallas.
Trinny and Susannah’s show is pretty grim. They have jumped ship to ITV where it’s been decided that they should become marriage guidance counsellors. The couple they picked, Ellie and Lester, were in a bad way. They have two autistic children, hadn’t made love for months, she’d had a brief affair, and he wore white socks with sandals. T&S believe there is no problem in the world so great that it can’t be solved by the right clothes, so they set about doing what they always do, which is to dress their victims as if from the Littlewoods catalogue. Poor old Lester wound up in lovat, a colour favoured by elderly men in Scarborough. Some of the clothes worn by T&S are simply weird — at one point Susannah appeared to be wearing a floral housecoat, as if about to do their cleaning as well as saving their marriage.
Somehow this worked its magic, or so we were led to believe, and the pair were set up in a hotel’s honeymoon suite, where T&S strewed the bed with rose petals, faux leopardskin handcuffs and the written suggestion of a threesome with Susannah — a bizarre touch, that. Did they take her up on this offer? If so we didn’t see, luckily for the Frenchwoman who might have preferred standing next to the train doors along with the backpackers and Tory delegates.
The Wells programme was well made, informative and naturally eschewed anything about his novels, though now and again he took a break to tap at a typewriter. Like most biopics it was full of people addressing each other stiffly by name: ‘But, Shaw…’ or ‘Ah, James! Henry, how are you?’ and unintentional humour. He went to visit Gorky, where he met Gorky’s beautiful secretary. ‘I am one of Lenin’s liberated intelligentsia,’ she told him. ‘And how liberated is that?’ he asked with a leer.
The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (BBC1, Tuesday) couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a biting political satire or a sitcom with a dark side. Jane Horrocks (Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous, the eponymous Little Voice) was the housewife and supermarket manager who sets up her own political party because she’s so fed up with the others. This is a well-trodden fictional path, so naturally she wins the general election, becomes prime minister and takes a concession call from Tony Blair — but can’t give him her full attention because she has spent polling night trying to talk down a suicidal youth who has an unrequited love for her daughter. As young persons say today, how random is that? At one point she slides a tampon under a toilet cubicle wall to a high-flying Tory woman whose period has come early. Naturally the grateful woman leaves the Tories and joins Mrs Pritchard’s campaign. In other words, the show is a mess, saved only by Ms Horrocks’s performance, which is wonderfully subtle, switching convincingly from flustered mum to woman of steel in a few seconds. She really is the only reason why the show is worth watching at all, and I’m not sure that I will bother with episode two.
Fortunately for my French companion, I didn’t have a DVD of The Good Housekeeping Guide (BBC1, Saturday) in which Alan Davies lost his wife but gained a bordello. Don’t ask. Again, a train wreck of a script saved only by the comic talents of Davies and Michelle Gomez, who reprised her familiar but well-loved role as a brutal, ball-breaking bitch.