A few years ago on a Caribbean island, I tried smoking crack. It tasted absolutely delicious, like toffee bananas, and for about ten minutes I felt quite fantastic. But I still don’t think it’s nearly as stupid or addictive or bad for you as I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here (ITV1).
I promised myself, as I always do, that I wasn’t going to watch it. But during North & South (BBC1, Sunday) — which I like but would probably like more if I weren’t slightly worried about the liberties I gather it has been taking with the novel — I couldn’t resist flicking over every now and again to see how the latest bunch of nonentities were getting on in the jungle.
Like most of you, I imagine, I hardly recognised any of them, apart from toothy annoyance Janet Street-Porter, disgraced butler Paul Burrell and former lovable TV cop sidekick Huggy Bear. The rest were a bunch of virtually undifferentiable blondes and men with terrible haircuts and common accents.
This ought to have been the time to sigh wearily and go back to North & South, especially once I’d been reminded how slow I’m a Celebrity is: for every thrilling incident that everyone’s going to be talking about the next day round the office water-dispenser, you have to wade through about five hours of inconsequential nothingness. Instead, though, as soon as the terrestrial broadcast ended on ITV1, I felt a strange force impelling me to switch over to the hardcore addicts’ continuation edition —I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here — Now on ITV2.
When its amiable presenter Mark Durden-Smith asked Ant and Dec who, at this early stage, they fancied as the winner, I found myself genuinely interested in what they had to say. (They were tightlipped, though they did think it was going to be quite spicy this year because of all the potential ego clashes.) And when Tara Palmer-Tomkinson chipped in to say that Burrell had his work cut out to get her vote, I nodded sagely and thought, ‘Yeah. He is looking a bit of a slimeball so far. And, frankly, his sweaty nervousness when they were forced to do the unexpected parachute jump was deeply unattractive...’
Over the next few weeks, of course, you will read many further disquisitions as to why I’m a Celebrity is so addictive and much impassioned advocacy for the various candidates. So much, indeed, that if you’ve somehow resisted the urge to watch this silly, pointless programme you will be made to feel — a bit like in that period when the country lost its head after the death of Diana — a freak.
What bothers me is that it’s not the mob who are creating this pressure, it’s the intelligentsia. Bright, educated, middle-class people don’t seem much interested in grown-up television any more (which is why The Sopranos had to be broadcast so late: not enough demand) — they just want to slob in front of cheap popular entertainment. This is a harmless urge. My objection is simply the way they will insist on intellectualising it and aggrandising it — as if we should somehow give a toss about its cultural significance.
How can we have got our priorities so hideously wrong? We live in a society where it has now become almost compulsory to watch blondes force-feeding themselves on witchetty grubs. But where it will shortly become forbidden to practise a heroic, noble sport which tests courage and stamina, which adds immeasurably to the beauty of the countryside, which binds communities, which affords joy and excitement of an intensity those who have never hunted will probably never experience. I would emigrate — except, where to?
You might think The Sex Inspectors (Channel 4, Tuesday) — the one in which real couples are filmed with thermal imaging cameras having sex — affords further depressing proof that Britain is irredeemably up the spout. But, after the first episode, I decided quite the opposite: that it’s one of the very few areas where my generation is better off than my parents’ or grandparents’.
Each week it takes a couple (good-looking so that the idea of them having the rut in front of you doesn’t make you throw up) with some kind of minor sexual disorder, which is then resolved with some no-nonsense tips from an Aussie woman and a gay American man, plus illustrative footage of glowing red bodies (and the occasional un-thermally-disguised pair of white buttocks) heaving in unison, plus the odd orgasmic yelp.
But it’s not remotely titillating or exploitative or erotic. This is a resolutely practical (bordering on the dull) advice programme for people in loving relationships who want more fulfilled sex lives, and I’ve absolutely no doubt it will perform a genuine public service. If my parents had been able to see it, maybe they wouldn’t have got divorced.
Finally, for God’s sake don’t miss Peep Show (Channel 4, Tuesday and Friday), by far the rudest, funniest most inspired comedy on TV. I’ll try to explain why in a fortnight...