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Why watching Britain’s Got Talent is like giving yourself a lobotomy

1 June 2013

9:00 AM

1 June 2013

9:00 AM

The kids are back for half-term so we’re having to watch absolute crap again on TV. Monday night, I wanted to watch The Fall (BBC1). But I couldn’t, obviously, because Britain’s Got Talent (ITV1) was on.

‘Dad! Dad! You’ve got to see this!’ So I come in to see what I’ve got to see and it’s a man called Aaron Crow whose unique and remarkable skills are that he never speaks, he has an interesting haircut, and he does mildly scary magic tricks which aren’t quite as good as Dynamo’s. Also he pronounces his name ‘Aran’ — as in sweater. Is this some other annoying new trend I didn’t know about? Kids being unable to pronounce ‘Aaron’ in the same way they think the word ‘worry’ rhymes with ‘lorry’?

Problem is, it’s amazing how quickly you get sucked in, like performing an instant auto-lobotomy. There I am with Girl, lingering on the sofa to see what novelty act comes on next. It’s a couple of scruffy blokes who by day work behind the counter of a tearoom in Wales, but by night are a duetting pair of swoonsome operatic tenors. Their biggest fan is their Nan, who has come wearing a T-shirt urging viewers to vote for them. Apparently when they were kids, she’d play all this opera on the record player and soon enough the boys were singing along like proper professionals.

This is why the show is so popular: it’s not the acts themselves, which you can often take or leave, but the back stories. You’re drawn into this fantastical parallel universe where, far from being a septic isle of dole-scroungers, Islamist plotters, doggers and increasingly desperate solar-panel salesman, Britain is a magical realm of undiscovered talent, brimful of charming, homely, modest, simple folk who will yet one day achieve untold fortune thanks to the brilliance of their ‘Nessun Dorma’/delightful performing dog/conjuring tricks. Now then, now then, as it happens I do quite a good Jimmy Savile impersonation. He was a big children’s TV star when I was growing up in the Seventies. Do you think if I went on and auditioned I might stand a chance of hitting the big time? ‘James Delingpole: the new Jimmy Savile.’ How does that sound?

Tell you what I absolutely refuse point-blank to watch with my kids though: Russell Howard’s Good News (BBC3, Thursday). While I’m generally not unfond of my progeny, it’s their love of programmes like this that makes me wonder: might I not be better off just selling them off to be child soldiers in Uganda or to work as slaves in some Nike factory, and then spending the money on something more fun like a Range Rover sport with tinted windows?

If you haven’t been exposed to Russell Howard, here’s how he rolls. He stands on a stage in jeans and a T-shirt and says purportedly funny things about what has been going on in the week’s news. Except, here’s the thing: the man has no comedic or satirical insight that might render his commentary even remotely amusing. You might as well give Dr Jonathan Miller an hour to deconstruct the latest Wiley remix; or ask Jordan to analyse the new Titus Andronicus production. Nothing he has to say adds anything whatsoever to the topics he’s supposed to be deconstructing. Really, they’re just a feeble pretext for one or two cheeky-chappy asides about tits, bums and farts, which his fans seem happy enough to mistake for edginess and daring.

What’s really irksome about Howard, though, is the mind-numbing, soul-sapping conventionalism of his politics. You just know that the first day he went to the subsidised bar on his economics degree course at the University of the West of England (Bristol Poly, in old money, I believe), he got handed the usual Middle-Class Student Wanker’s starter pack marked ‘This is what you think’. There’ll have been a long section on how bad racism is, probably the worst crime in the world; one on Tories (‘tossers’); others on Israel and Palestine, the great recession (all the fault of greedy bankers and tax-dodging corporations, basically), the environment (v.v important!!), and so on. And young Russell will have gone, ‘Hey, I like the sound of this. It means not only can I spend the rest of my life feeling morally superior over all the scumbags who don’t agree with the Middle-Class Student Wanker’s starter pack but also that I’ll never have to use a single one of my brain cells ever again.’

And he never has.

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