Simon Hoggart

A certain smugness

Why do so many otherwise kindly people hate Children in Need (BBC1, last weekend)? We truly believe in helping needy children.

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Why do so many otherwise kindly people hate Children in Need (BBC1, last weekend)? We truly believe in helping needy children. We are genuinely pleased to discover that this year it raised £20.3 million, which is almost as much as last year, in spite of the recession, and which amounts to nearly 34 pence for every man, woman and child in the country. Actually, I chucked £2 into a collecting bucket on the Tube on Friday last, which makes me six times as generous as the average British person!

We also like Terry Wogan. I think he is a national treasure, being one of the few disc jockeys who gives the impression of having read a book — or even several. I like the way he was sucking a sweetie when he introduced a young American woman called Taylor Swift, who apparently is the biggest-selling singer in the world. American celebrities go through life surrounded by adoring sycophants, so it probably did her good to be introduced by a man sucking a sweetie. It would have been even better if he had been smoking a roll-up, but you can’t have everything. And if Ms Swift was feeling hard done by, she got an enormous round of applause just for reading out the Children in Need phone number, so at least the audience coped with any self-esteem issues she might have had.

No, I think it’s the smugness of all these celebrities, no doubt performing for free, but getting publicity no amount of money could buy. It’s the way we are invited to aah and coo over decent, generous people in their various workplaces who have worn silly costumes, held raffles, auctioned kisses and done goodness knows what in order to parade behind a giant cardboard cheque for an amount that would pay a middle-ranking BBC executive for approximately 3.7 weeks. Oh, and the way that these top slebs always turn in second-rate performances because they can get away with it since it’s for charity. And the way that Paul McCartney, appearing on Children in Need Rocks the Albert Hall (BBC3, Saturday), sang ‘Hey Jude’, a song which seems to go on and on and on because it does. At least we were spared ‘The Frog Song’.

Mind you, if they had had Children in Need in the 1930s, they’d never have got Gracie Fields off the screen. Gracie (BBC 4, Monday), the second in the Women We Loved series, followed last week’s Enid. Enid Blyton, we learnt, was an odious, manipulative harridan who gave all her love to her fans and none to her family. But that was also Gracie’s problem. She couldn’t pass a couple of squaddies without giving them a concert. Show her Pudsey the one-eyed bear and an adoring audience and she wouldn’t have shut up till Christmas. Jane Horrocks gave a luminous performance, catching perfectly the way that she consumed the public’s love like a hungry dog with a bowl of Kennomeat, and her utter desolation when they abandoned her. I hadn’t realised that she was accused of fleeing Britain during the war out of cowardice and greed; in fact, it was to spare her Italian husband from being interned. But there was another element in the public’s doubt; growing up in the north, I realised that in the view of many, her real crime might have been to prefer Capri to Rochdale. To some this seemed a terrible and incomprehensible betrayal. But then all the Beatles left Liverpool as soon as they could.

Gavin and Stacey is back on BBC1 (Thursday), apparently for the last series. This comedy began with tiny audiences on non-terrestrial television, and built up to an enormously popular Christmas special a year ago. Gavin is from Essex and Stacey, his bride, is from Barry in south Wales, so it’s a sort of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? only with more overt racism. In the new series Gavin is transferred to a job in Barry and so is among Stacey’s weird family; in one scene a few seconds long, he watches the local television which is all perky programmes about Wales or in Welsh, and so loses the will to live.

The pair are surrounded by a host of characters who manage to be grotesque and subtle at the same time, which is quite a trick. I loved Doris, the grandma who talks in dirty teenage slang, Rob Brydon as a well-meaning but deeply annoying uncle, and Alison Steadman, Gavin’s Mum, vast and smothering like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.