231. Homage by Julie Burchill

Hail Tapehead !

by Julie Burchill

A couple of years ago, when American television first started thirsting for English game shows, I had a brilliant idea. LEMMING REHAB: combining animals, death, and fierce competition, how could it fail?

Three teams of three people – Blue, Green and Red teams – are taken to a place where lemmings are due to take the big leap and, using nets and firemen’s equipment, each team saves five lemmings apiece.

The fifteen lemmings are painlessly tagged with their team’s colour on a back leg, and then for two weeks they are shown that there is more to life than death as their minders take them away and, with clever use of various foods, music, amusements, and sex toys, attempt to re-awaken that all-important life instinct. At an appropriate time, the fifteen lemmings are taken back to the scene of their attempted mass suicide; the team to have put the biggest number of lemmings off the idea of an easeful death wins. Intro music? ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ by The Smiths. Outro music? ‘Happiness’ by Pizzaman. The show’s presenter? Danniella Westbrook. From an original idea by ME.

But whenever I mentioned Lemming Rehab to anyone, they laughed awkwardly and then changed the subject. After a while I began to mutter mutinously to myself ‘Tapehead would understand… Tapehead would love it !’ Until one day, one person – obviously not as nice as the others – said rather meaningfully: “Well, exactly !” And funnily enough, I never mentioned it again.

For Tapehead is a strange lad – king of a kinky castle, fiddler with a lonely farrow; bedazzled by too much televised invasive surgery, mad penguins, and 

Emily Shadwick, he reels around the cathode ray tubes of post-ironic England, blinded by the light of the white dot. If we are indeed a global village, and TV has made us that way, then we must be in need of a global village idiot savant to explain us – and excuse us – to ourselves. For that strange and lonesome task, performed par excellence, Tapehead’s your man.

I’ve always believed that nine tenths of love was not about liking the same things but about hating the same things. Here, Tapehead and I find the perfect union. Whether decimating John Lennon (“weak, nasal, singing voice; dull haircut; awful granny glasses; zero sex appeal. Even Ringo had more talent”), Jimmy McGovern (“a trembling, vindictive, voyeur”), John Peel (“so busy doing commercials for multi-national oil companies and building societies it’s a wonder he has time to bolster his flagging credibility by listening to any music”) or Jo Whiley (“her interview technique is certainly innovative – namely asking her guest a question, then interrupting with an anecdote about herself. The sheer volume of close-ups of her scary Terrahawk features is presumably a contractual requirement she just has to put up with”), Tapehead is both wise and fair and, better still, he knows exactly where to squeeze.

Evading both the effete sneering of the other broadsheet critics, and the lumpish leering of the majority of tabloid TV writers, he is forever the little boy hanging from the lamp-post pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes, and the two old blokes in the theatre box in The Muppets pointing out that the show is crap.

This, his first book, is the only legal reason I can think of for turning off the TV RIGHT NOW

Hail Tapehead !

Julie Burchill, Brighton, 2001

Introduction to ‘Interference: Tapehead versus Television’

(Atlantic Books)