Reality TV 1


“Humankind cannot bear very much reality (television)”
– TS Eliot, The Four Quartets

Alan Partridge saw the future.

Or rather, the writers of the famous “monkey tennis” episode of I’m Alan Partridge (Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, and Armando Iannucci) did. That was way back in 1997 when Bird Watching With Bill Bailey and Amanda Holden actually delivering a baby on ITV’s Out of My Depth were still fantasies/nightmares not even the most demented programme maker was harbouring.

The episode sees Partridge pitching senior BBC executive Tony Hayers ideas for new series, after hearing his chat show has not been re-commissioned.

“Shoestring, Taggart, Spender, Bergerac, Morse…” Partridge begins decisively. “What does that say to you about regional detective series ?”
“There’s too many of them ?” Hayers muses.
Partridge proposes a new regional detective series based in Norwich called Swallow.
“Swallow is a detective who tackles vandalism. Bit of a maverick, not afraid to break the law if he thinks it’s necessary. He’s not a criminal but he will, perhaps, travel at 80mph on the motorway if, for example, he wants to get somewhere quickly…”

As panic sets in, the quality of ideas starts deteriorating. Monkey Tennis, Cooking In Prison, Inner-City Sumo…
“We take fat people from the inner cities !” Alan explains, improvising. “Put them in big nappies, and then get them to throw each other out of a circle that we draw with chalk on the ground. Do it in a pub car park…”

Getting nowhere fast, he moves on, unwittingly inventing the concept that has come to take over our screens/lives: the celebrity version of Reality Television.
“Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave ?” he suggests, his desperation increasing. “Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank ?”

THE JOKE is (or isn’t) that these days they don’t even seem that ridiculous. We live in a world where the public are fixating with Ann Widdicombe’s fandango (as it were), where Rebecca Loos is remembered more for masturbating a pig (on The Farm) than even (reputedly) being David Beckham’s mistress, and where Lady Di’s butler Paul Burrell munching on testicles is no longer unusual (except perhaps for the kangaroo concerned, who, perhaps fortunately, was dead).

We live in a world where Tessa Sanderson and Ron Atkinson have lived together on Wife Swap, along with Jilly Goolden and Alexander O’Neal, and Pete Burns and Razor Ruddock. You can make up your own celebrity pairs but I’ll doubt they’ll sound funnier than these.

The only thing that might be a bigger/more tragic/more damning indictment of the nature of Zed-elebrity than once-famous people prepared to swap partners was the under-rated Celebrity Sleepover, where fame casualties like Frank Bruno and Jeremy Beadle suffered the ignominy of living in “normal” people’s houses for the weekend. Imagine ! The horror !

The way Celebrity Come Dine With Me has usurped Wife Swap is probably because it is Celebrity Wife Swap in snack form. We live in a world where viewers no longer have the attention span that stretches to the format of Wife Swap.

It hardly goes without saying that episodes of Celebrity Come Dine With Me featuring the likes of de rigeur Reality TV regulars Abi Titmuss, Christopher Biggins, Edwina Curries, Bobby Davro, Dane Bowers, Sam Fox and Les Battersby have already happened.

Watching ‘celebrities’ such as Mica Paris, Anneka Rice, Lynsey De Paul, Lee Ryan, Rodney Marsh, Jan Leeming, Wayne Sleep and Little Jimmy Osmond cook a meal though is when we enter into the universe of Partridge.
These are just names that invite derision, and yet incite a certain (twisted) fascination.

We live in a world of watching cast members of Emmerdale learn to ice skate, the Happy Mondays go Ghost Hunting or one time jungle DJ, Goldie does virtually anything have already been a Reality TV show.

Celebrity Coach Trip is another brilliant, brilliantly cheap, brilliantly awful idea. Going on a coach ride with Bianca Gascoigne, Ingrid Tarrant, David Van Day, Rodney Marsh and Raef from The Apprentice… Would death be kinder ? (For them that is.) With their fame ebbing away, wouldn’t putting them out of their misery be more humane ? We could even call it Celebrity Execution.

It’s hard to make up ideas more surreal or appalling than these.
See if you can spot which one of the following is real:
Tommy Lee Goes To College, Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys (Ledbury To Shrewsbury), or
Celebrity Rehab With Rodney King ?
Yes all of them.

Celebrity Rehab is one thing by the way, but why anyone would want to watch Ann Widdicombe, Anne Diamond and John ‘Jonno’ Coleman on Celebrity Fat Club, sorry Fit Club is anyone’s guess. Can’t they just go away and get fit on their own. Then perhaps they’d be more employable. Then perhaps they’d DESERVE to be on TV again.

Every possible form of leisure or employment is now considered a bona fide reality TV show: from hairdressing (The Salon featured such titans of talent as Cheryl Baker, Ozzy Osbourne’s nephew Terry Longden and even Michael Barrymore – a man no sane person would let loose on his barnet) to being the frankly absurd Young Butcher Of The Year.

The various farming shows may have some cultural/social point of interest given that most of us live in the city, but The Games was just a big sports day.
Josie D’Arby, a member of Steps and Bobby Davro doing the hurdles ? Give me strength. Linda Lusardi, Lady Isabella Hervey and Mr Gay UK throwing the javelin ? Kill me now. By the time we got to series 4 and the MP for Falmouth & Carborne up against Bernie Nolan and one of Blazin’ Squad in the curling and waterskiing, we had really gone off the scale of what was normal.

The Chris Evans’ vehicle, Famous & Fearless made the fatal mistake of throwing money at this idea (thereby totally missing the point that reality TV is essentially cheap – and nasty). Looking back, Sam Branson and Rufus Hound having BMX races or Kelly Holmes having hovercraft races against Little Mo from EastEnders certainly doesn’t sound entertaining. And of course, it wasn’t.

FOOD is the, um, staple diet of reality television and television in general at the moment. There are more TV chefs than people cooking at HOME.

Others jobs currently in vogue include Vets (including The Bionic Vet), airport staff, being a cab driver (Call Me A Cabbie), football (Wayne Rooney: Street Striker), and of course Fashion (The Model Agency, Britain’s Most Big Model).

It’s quite a good parlour game – making up celebrity Reality TV series in the style of Alan Partridge – certainly a lot more fun than you will have watching them haha.

Dog Handling With Angela Rippon. Dog Fighting With Kate Bush. Celebrity Yodelling With Geoff Capes, Adam Ant, Ray Wilkins, and Jenna Jameson. Roy Keane’s Charm School. Paranormal Experiences With Mungo Jerry. Pizza Chef With Frankie Dettori.
Celebrity Binmen with John Inman, Nigel Havers, Linda Lovelace, Brett Anderson, Kelvin McKenzie, and Ruud Gullit. Celebrity Community Police Officer with Brian Paddick, Alvin Stardust and Lily Allen’s dog.

In this age of TV budget cuts, more and dramas are being cancelled – replaced with reality shows about cops busting people for speeding, customs men trying to catch smugglers, junior doctors treating people with loo brushes up their backsides.

If there is one artform that future generations will look back on at decide that signified the end of civilisation as we know it, it is this. There are simply too many (ex/old) celebrities. Their existences need to be culled not protracted on Reality Television. I don’t know if you remember back in 2002 when Ricky Gervais and Grant Bovey were going to fight one another for charity (or rather publicity). Tragically, it was scrapped by the BBC after boxing authorities intervened. This was a shame – the next fight was – without any word of a lie – going to be between the BBC’s political reporter John Pienaar and Tony Hadley. This is the sort of Reality show you’d actually pay money to see.

Beside a general moratorium on this celebrity nonsense,
I’d propose Celebrity Fight Club, where pathetic minor celebrities take each other and the loser is actually banned from television – and even radio – for 5 years, or even life.

How good would that be !


Since completing this piece Channel 4 have announced plans for a show in which it will air live footage of people (sadly not celebrities – not yet anyway) taking Class A drugs (whatever they are) to show the effects on the body. (They could have just run me. I can tell them.) Drugs Live it’s called. As opposed to Drug Users Die. Any celebrities appearing could sign up for Celebrity Rehab at the same time.
Several new Reality shows have also appeared including Dating In The Dark with Sarah Harding (certainly the best place for her); Baboons With Bill Bailey (“Baboons will eat anything” – except unfortunately Bill Bailey); and Home Is Where The Heart Is, in which Anneka Rice, Alex James, Aldo Zilli and interior designers Colin & Justin welcomed a homeless person into their lovely houses for two weeks in the manner of Harry & Paul’s sketch in which a middle-class family adopted a “Pet Geordie.”

Among the highlights/low points of this show were: Colin & Justin setting up some sort of star chart for Jim, an alcoholic for 2 decades who used to drink three bottles of vodka a day – to try and help him cut down on his drinking. And Alex from Blur acting like the Norman Tebbitt of Britpop as the faux farmer set his pet homeless person to work bricklaying. At one point the prize prick dismissed news from the show’s charity co-ordinator that Danny was hearing voices telling him to self-harm and had been diagnosed as having early symptoms of schizophrenia by accusing him of creating “some stupid bullshit false jeopardy for television.”

As if.