Simon Hoggart

In deep water

What a strange organisation the BBC is! Imagine the meeting at which they discussed the cancellation of Hole in the Wall, the world’s most mindless game show.

In deep water
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What a strange organisation the BBC is! Imagine the meeting at which they discussed the cancellation of Hole in the Wall, the world’s most mindless game show.

What a strange organisation the BBC is! Imagine the meeting at which they discussed the cancellation of Hole in the Wall, the world’s most mindless game show. It didn’t have terrible ratings, but was stoned to death by jeering critics and Harry Hill’s mockery.

‘Gentlemen, I am delighted to inform you,’ says HOCMIGS, (head of commissioning, mindless game shows), ‘that we have found a replacement even more mindless, more tooth-furringly, goose-bumpingly dreadful than Hole.’

A rather odd individual at the end of the table squeaks up. ‘I hope it means dropping people into cold water. I do like seeing people dropped into cold water. Hurr, hurr.’

‘It involves,’ says HOCMIGS, ‘little else. Contestants will have to answer mind-numbingly dull questions, such as “which of these animals did not feature on Blue Peter?” and “which of these titles is not a magazine on sale in Britain?”’ (The answer turned out to be What Patio? Somebody was paid to think this up for prime-time television.)

All the contestants are strapped to something — elastic bands, a bike, a spherical cage — on top of an 80-foot platform. The one with the wrong boring answer is dropped into a pool of cold water, just like in Hole in the Wall, only from higher up. Then they show the drop several times — as if it were the goal scored in the World Cup final.

‘So, we get a couple of dozen dunkings in one hour!’ says HOCMIGS. ‘Hurr, hurr,’ says the pervert in the corner.

Something like that must have happened, or else 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show (BBC1, Saturday) would never have got past somebody’s cheese-induced nightmare. It combines stupidity, tedium, complete lack of tension, and, to judge from the kit they’ve built, considerable expense — though they have certainly saved on the presenter, a creepy, huggy-feely unknown called Steve Jones, no relation to the celebrated geneticist.

Then the same BBC comes up with the perfectly serviceable That Mitchell & Webb Look, which includes a sketch about a post-nuclear-apocalypse mindless game show, in which the host, possibly modelled on Steve Jones — the TV host, not the geneticist — gives an unwelcome hug to one of the contestants and, in the ingratiating manner that says, ‘Unlike you poor sods, I’m getting paid to be here,’ inquires, ‘Are you nervous?’ and receives the answer, ‘No, we all smell like this now,’ a line that would have improved 101 Ways no end. Oh, and the sketch about Laboratoire Garnier, in which researchers were taken off a cure for Alzheimer’s in order to concentrate on useless skincare preparations, was very funny and made you admire the BBC’s courage in running it, because you sure as hell won’t ever see something as savage about an advertiser on ITV.

But it is also the same BBC that wiped almost all the tapes of Not Only But Also, the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch show that remains transcendently brilliant in the mind, because we now have only their scripts and our memories. On Sunday night BBC2 tried to recreate the best of the sketches with modern comedians. It sort of worked, but only when you could hear Pete and Dud in your head. Nick Mohammed caught Dud’s ingratiating naivety, and Hugh Dennis came closest to Pete’s tentative sneer, which worked perfectly in the classic sketch about the psychiatrist treating a patient who is having an affair with his wife. The Wardrobe sketch went on far too long, and the other comedians didn’t seem to be bothering too much. 

Meanwhile, the person who ordered the tapes to be destroyed should be endlessly dropped into a tank of ice-cold water, with repeats, until technology allows us to bring the originals back from the ether.

And that BBC brought us the ferocious and hilarious Rich Hall’s The Dirty South, a great cry of rage against the way Hollywood depicts southern America. Did you know that the man who wrote Deliverance had had a canoeing accident in Georgia, received nothing but help and kindness from the locals, then went home to write about canoeists being anally raped by hillbillies? The South, said Hall — who comes from North Carolina — had never got over losing the Civil War, and Hollywood was never going to let them forget it.

It was full of great one-liners. Erskine Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road, was ‘the man who put the poor into pornography’. In the book a girl sells her body for a turnip. And there are few programmes in which the presenter stands in a cotton field and yells, ‘Fuck you!’ at the viewers. Now, that would have improved 100 Ways. Indeed it may have been the message from the BBC the quiz was sending us.