There is no end to the programmes about the land we live in: we have had portraits of Britain, the Britain we built, the coast of Britain, and journeys around Britain. There seems no aspect of the country that’s not been covered. The Beeb must be desperate. How about Underground Britain, Around Britain on a Milk Float, or Excitable Foreigners Praise Britain? I offer all those ideas free to whoever becomes the new controller of BBC1.
In the meantime we have Alan Titchmarsh presenting Nature of Britain (BBC1, Wednesday), and it must be the most patriotic programme the Beeb has made in decades. I was whisked back to my childhood, when my primary school teacher, Miss Holt, told us that Britain was the finest country in the world in every respect, including the weather.
I will say straightaway that the images were as wonderful as you might expect, best of all the seven million starlings wheeling through the sky. But I somehow knew that Titchmarsh would begin with ‘This precious stone set in a silver sea, this other Eden…’ because it was going to be that kind of show. Then he, too, was off down memory lane eulogising ‘frogspawn in jamjars, turning into tadpoles!’ If he’d wiped away a tear and mentioned ‘jumpers for goalposts’ I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, the whole programme had the air of being a comedy spoof. All we needed was Tom Baker intoning ‘Britain, Britain, Britain!’ as he does in Little Britain. Or Paul Whitehouse telling us, ‘Britain. In’t it brilliant?’
Titchmarsh’s theme was that Britain was ‘special’, a word he must have used a dozen times. Our wildlife and our countryside were ‘truly special’. Our unique mixture of wildlife is found nowhere else in the world, we learnt, and there was nowhere else in the world which could match the splendour of a British spring. Even our seas are so stuffed with nutrients and other good things that they are ‘among the most productive on earth’. Our wildlife put the rest to shame. Forget elephants and kangaroos. Two hares fighting created ‘a magic, natural moment, to treasure for ever’. Grass is not just grass, but ‘a lush carpet that makes our land so green and pleasant’. This was the Franklin Mint school of scriptwriting.
‘Far from complaining about the rain, we should take pride in it, because it too goes a long way to making Britain special.’ Even animals which Johnny Foreigner also has are better for being British. ‘British badgers are special, much friendlier than their relatives on the European mainland.’ This is because they eat a diet of rich, moist, juicy British worms, of a type hot-blooded Latins in their rain-free hellholes can only envy in despair. Apparently two thirds of all the world’s gannets live here! He didn’t need to say why they chose Britain, because ‘the British Isles really are a special place!’.
Well, yes, though I have been told that they have wildlife and scenery and even weather in, say, the United States or France. I am as happy to take pride in my country as the next man, though I don’t need to be told over and over again that it is the greatest nation on earth in every respect, whether by Tony Blair, Alan Titchmarsh, or my old teacher Miss Holt.
After Belle de Jour, more agreeably glossy filth. Californication (Five, Thursday) stars David Duchovny, formerly of The X-Files. It’s about a writer in LA who has broken up with the love of his life, who is also the mother of his daughter, and fills the empty hours by shagging. What is startling is the fact that when Janet Jackson had her ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and a bare breast popped out, live, during the Superbowl halftime show, CBS was fined $550,000. But the first episode of Californication had nine breasts, plus several simulated (I assume) sex acts and has been rewarded with enormous ratings. In the opening scene Hank visits a Catholic church where a nun gives him a blowjob. It turns out to be a dream, though on the television screen there is no distinction, since nothing is really happening in the first place. But the show is funny and self-aware and sarcastic about LA culture (actually, isn’t almost every American show sarcastic about LA culture?). Hank’s book is titled God Hates Us All but has been made into a film called A Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
Tonight (ITV1, Friday) used to be a sort of apology for a current-affairs programme, which did occasionally address issues of importance. This week’s edition was called Supermarket Cheap and was nothing more than a half-hour commercial for supermarkets’ own brands. At least the regular TV ads don’t have an annoying, hectoring presenter in a silly shirt. Well, not always.