Simon Hoggart

Cartoon counselling

The Trouble with Love and Sex (Wednesday, BBC2) was extraordinary and quite successful.

Cartoon counselling
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The Trouble with Love and Sex (Wednesday, BBC2) was extraordinary and quite successful. They took two couples plus one lonely single chap, recorded them talking to counsellors at Relate (formerly the Marriage Guidance Council, following the same rule by which the Royal Association for the Protection and Furtherance of Deaf Persons would become Eh?) and then turned the resulting dialogue into cartoons, so you heard their real voices but saw only drawings of people who didn’t look like them.

These days, when people will suffer almost any humiliation to get on television, I am sure they could have found folk who would eagerly have appeared on camera to talk about the most intimate details of their marriage. But it wouldn’t have worked so well. We would have made judgments on their body language, their clothing, even the moles on their faces, all of which would have detracted from the conversations. As it was, everyone looked rather sweet, like those Nick Park plasticine animals. And it was somehow more revealing than actual human faces could have managed. I wanted to shout at the Relate counsellors, telling them to lay it on the line: ‘Can’t you see, the bitch regards everything her poor, endlessly suffering husband says as a challenge to her authority. Don’t nod sympathetically, tell her to shut her yap!’

Dave, the single man, was the saddest of all, unable to approach any woman he fancied for fear of being rejected. Both his voice and his cartoon persona seemed agreeable, and you realised that his problems came from the fact that his father had tried to kill him. How does any psyche cope with that? The man who gave you life also wants to take it away! The only slightly duff note was his cartoon counsellor who sounded warm and kindly, but was wearing a green suit, a beard and silly oblong glasses, which made him look like every stereotypical shrink.

But what was touching and encouraging — and I suppose it follows from the fact that these people had gone to Relate in the first place — was the way even couples who had long passed the stage of being in love, and who were often entirely unsuited, still wanted to cling together, if only for fear of the alternative.

Lord Sugar Tackles Football (Tuesday, BBC2) was also encouraging. It demonstrated that you can be truly, seriously ugly, with horrible blotchy skin, and hair like a toilet brush in a charity hospital, and still be a big success on television. Lorrshugger, as I suppose we have to call him now (the latest series of The Apprentice also started this week), kept hurling statistics at us, all of which proved that football in Britain is run on the lines of a casino operated by a drunken spendthrift. British clubs are more than £3 billion in debt. Overwhelmingly the main reason for that is footballers’ salaries, but the clubs can’t do much about that without running the risk of the best decamping abroad, causing the Premiership to be no longer the most watched league in the world, available, we were told, in some 500 million homes. And if you’ve seen Thai kids scrapping over a tennis ball on a patch of waste ground while wearing knock-off Manchester United shirts advertising a failed American insurance giant, you’ll realise what global reach really means.

Unfortunately, Sugar didn’t talk to many interesting people, apart perhaps from Dave Whelan of Wigan, who has spent £100 million of his own money — a hundred million! — to keep the club going, and who appears to have no regrets. The big interview was with a shark, one of the agents who have ratcheted up players’ pay to grotesque, unsustainable and indeed unspendable levels, and have become astoundingly rich themselves. Lorrshugger may be a successful businessman (East End boy to number 89 on the Sunday Times rich list) but he isn’t much of an interviewer, and he barely laid a glove on this slithiest tove of all. Angry incredulity is no substitute for probing and well-informed questions.

At the end, he produced a five-point plan to put football on a workable basis. And I thought, yup, the day they adopt all that is the day that Mansfield Town wins the Premiership.

Worth catching Vera (Sunday, ITV1) just for Brenda Blethyn’s acting. The series itself is the usual ludicrously complicated set of murders, all committed by the least likely character, so it’s as if Ian McKellen had turned up in a daytime soap opera to give a master class to the rest of the cast. Her range is astonishing, utterly convincing and wholly engaging. She can make a little moue-type squeak which indicates not only doubt, but her own doubt about whether she is really doubtful. Wonderful.