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Porn with knickers on

Secret Diary of a Call Girl (ITV2, Thursday)

26 September 2007

1:01 PM

26 September 2007

1:01 PM

I once knew a young woman who worked for a large public-interest organisation. She was clever and well educated, but funds were tight, and she feared she was about to lose her job. In which case, she planned to follow a university friend and become a high-class prostitute. It sounded marvellous, she said. The agency vetted the clients, she worked at home, and made hundreds of pounds a day for little work and next to no risk. Her parents thought she was a secretary; when they were in town she simply took the day off. It sounded dreadfully sad to me, and I was delighted when I heard that my acquaintance had survived the sackings.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl (ITV2, Thursday) was apparently about the life of such a young woman, based on a weblog which may or may not have been genuine. The series is porn, but because this is television, even cable television, it was porn with its knickers on. It was sex — as explicit as you can be without actually showing any organs of generation — but, like porn, lacking the element of real life. The lovely, winsome and beguiling Billie Piper, who plays ‘Belle’, the prostitute, would thrill any male whose brain had not been replaced by tofu — even fully clothed, which she rarely is. ‘I know you think I don’t like sex, but I do,’ she says to us in a defiant sort of way. ‘And I love money.’ We see her counting the crisp fifties before stashing them in her freezer compartment, completing the circle of food, sex, money and every kind of oral satisfaction.

The advance criticism of this programme has implied that it is a male fantasy. Some suspect that the original Belle de Jour blog was written by a man. Yet the writer of the television series is a woman, and it struck me that in many ways it’s closer to being a female fantasy. Belle’s clients are, for the most part, very good-looking, clean young men. One is so handsome that he would no more have to pay for sex than Roman Abramovich needs to sell the Big Issue. Even the farmer who, improbably, can afford her prices looks like Albert Finney. The men pay her money, do the business, and then disappear. They don’t come home pissed demanding a bunk-up, they don’t leave dirty clothes on the floor and they’re pathetically grateful for everything she does. It sounds like every single woman’s dream. The whole thing is roughly as realistic as Camberwick Green. It is also absolutely filthy, which doesn’t bother me at all.


Meet the Natives (Channel 4, Thursday) was fascinating in unexpected ways. A team of five men from the Pacific island of Tanna (why no women? Were they afraid that in their untrammelled, spontaneous way they might have engaged in Belle-style activities in front of the cameras?) had come here to learn the British way of life, or at least study television’s notion of the British way of life.

Tanna is the place where the natives believe that the Duke of Edinburgh is a god, which strikes me as less sophisticated than more mainstream religions, though no more irrational. They seemed disappointed that the Prince wasn’t on their itinerary, though it was perhaps fortunate, since he might have offered them some less than divine observations. The islanders seemed pretty sharp. Being hosted by the delightful wife of a pig farmer, they noticed that she seemed to spend a lot of time on housework. ‘There is so much cleaning to do, as Bobbie’s house if so full of unnecessary things,’ one said. They didn’t like the pub, because it was packed with noisy drunks. And they were outraged by the artificial insemination, which they thought unfair on the pigs. I couldn’t argue with any of that. ‘We are the happiest people in the world,’ one said, and I thought, if they believe that, then it’s probably true.

Michael Palin was in Turkey on BBC1 on Sunday. We saw him alone in a restaurant eating a plate of mezze. ‘But they have ways of dealing with people who want to sit quietly,’ he said, as musicians clustered around him. ‘Within minutes, my meal had turned into a concert!’ A girl addressed him: ‘When we see people drinking alone, we have compassion!’

Or rather, ‘When we see people drinking alone, apart from a television crew, and when we have been booked and paid, and had the assistant producer phoning up every five minutes to make sure we won’t be late, then we have compassion.’ It is much more artificial than the Yentob ‘noddies’ or the Blue Peter cat. Worse, it’s desperately, creakingly old-fashioned.


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