15. Despair

Jim Shelley almost despairs of humanity

Tapehead no 15

This week, a freeze-frame of humanity as it stands today.
Tape and watch it only when you’ve got the stomach for it.

Readers’ Wives follows four women and their spouses (who take the snaps), pursuing the grand prize in Fiesta magazine’s Readers’ Wife of the Year. It is as thoroughly demoralising a study of modern men and women as you’re likely to find.

The programme-makers fail to explain why people do this, though occasionally, they reveal why they think they do.

Lydia (“I’ve gotta good figure but I’ve got no looks”) talks about being raped more or less as she sends her pictures off. You can’t argue with a rape victim whose explanation for being a Readers’ Wife in Fiesta is that she’s helping prevent other women from being raped.

With such miserable women and their miserable men, Readers’ Wives is more Mike Leigh than Mike Leigh (“cor, she looks a bit ancient”, says a girl at Fiesta, judging the entrants) and more depressing.

“Magic !” says the winner’s husband, Gordon, when he hears that his snap of his well-proportioned wife, Gaynor, has won a prize. He proudly reveals that he has loads of pics of the missus – 2,500 of them – in a drawer.

“The bottom fell out, there were so many.”

According to Firebugs, the first episode of Channel 4’s decidedly dodgy series, Walk On The Wild Side, teenage arsonists were responsible for starting most of last year’s 27,500 fires. Sadly, the interviews with these wasters and idiots are smothered in horribly dated Network 7 graphics and black-and-white footage of car parks and remand centres. The arsonists themselves add nothing to our understanding: “I like…the flames,” fumbles one.

The arsonists look like angels compared to the sub-species exposed in the Undercover Britain programme on badger-baiting, The Killing Set.

Luckily, the scumbags stitch themselves up with their own stupidity.

The undercover reporter simply rings up a dog-breeder to make tentative enquiries about illegal hunts, only for his wife to tell him her husband is out – hunting. In Ireland, where they provide badger-digging holidays, they ask him to video the kill. He high-tails it to the ferry with the footage after telling them he’s nipping out to buy some fags. Nerve-wracking and sickening, the climax of this “sport” is several huge blokes from Burnely, armed with shotguns, clocking the badger across the head with a spade then lobbing it to the pack of dogs.

Horizon’s The Last Mammoth has more bad news; mammoths have been wiped out ! Horizon examines the differing theories (too cold, too hot, dying vegetation) but the result is so incomprehensible that you’ll need to rewind every two minutes. Experts around the world keep finding mammoth tusks, fossils and, most astonishing of all, a baby mammoth preserved in the permafrost, 40,000 years dead.

An autopsy of its innards tells us what it had for breakfast. A cave in Arizona contains piles of mammoth dung that is (the experts say) 11,000 years old. Pooh !

You have the same reaction to the Unpleasant Wold of Penn and Teller, with guest Dawn French, who copes very well, considering.

There is excellent use of an industrial shredder.
“Come on,” shrugs Penn, “it was just a rabbit.” Worth taping to learn the trick where you cut your own thumb off.

Finally, some human beings to love. The nurses at the Glasgow Teaching Hospital (Cutting Edge) have accents that make
toodle-ooh the most wonderful word in the English (or Scottish) language, and cry when their patients check out, alive or dead.

“Cheerfulness,” says the commentary, soberly, “is a nurse’s main role. It’s especially important when the patient is known to be terminal.”

Cutting Edge offers a valuable pick-me-up in a week when most people on TV make you despair. The closing post-scripts providing patients up-dates are classic, and, of course, grim. But just watching the nurses deal with it all makes you want to check in and be looked after. Toodle-ooh.

Collector’s Tape 19:
Horizon: Mon, 8pm-8.50pm, BBC2
Watchdog Special: Mon, 7.30pm – 9pm, BBC1
Alligator Hole: Thur, 8.30pm-9pm, BBC1
The Oprah Winfrey Show: Wed, 10.35pm-11.30pm, C4
The Really Wild Show: Wed, 4.35pm-5pm, BBC1
Dear Bill: Sun, 8.10pm-9pm, BBC2