Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Saturday night TV mania

This is my column in the Bath Chronicle of November 27 2008

Have you ever wondered how your life would be described if you were deemed sufficiently important to warrant an obituary in our leading national newspapers?
You would, no doubt, want to be remembered for your greatest achievements – the things that really mattered in your life.
Here for example is a potential ‘obit’ of someone who has done an awful lot in his life, someone who would clearly deserve many column inches in all our leading papers.
This man is regarded as one of the foremost journalists of his generation. Educated at Oxford, he went on to be an outstanding reporter working in 25 different countries – many of them war torn – before becoming a distinguished political journalist which saw him present Today and The World At One. He then graduated to the biggest, most prestigious reporting job in British political journalism – that of the BBC’s chief political correspondent. If that wasn’t enough, he then joined rivals ITN as their political editor. What a CV.
But it means nothing.
For on the day that a certain John Sergeant goes to visit the great politician in the sky, I envisage that the first paragraph of his obituary will talk about a time he toodled around the ballroom stage rather than on the Westminster one. For, as we all know, Mr Sergeant walked out on hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing last week prompting more headlines, debate and column inches than most of the hugely important political stories he covered in his distinguished career.
The sheer scale of the publicity caused by John’s decision to throw in the top hat and tails is, to me, indicative of the fact that the whole country seems to be rediscovering its love of television – and in particular Saturday night television.
When I was growing up my favourite children’s programme was the delightfully anarchic Tiswas starring a somewhat less cynical Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry, Spit the Dog and the delectable Sally James. For those that don’t know, Tiswas stood for ‘Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile’ and that is certainly how people seem to be reacting now to the pleasantly old-fashioned Saturday night onslaught of TV light entertainment that hits us from the end of the football results until Match of the Day.
If my family are anything to go by – and I rather suspect they are – last Saturday night was a continual stream of Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, X Factor results plus ITV2 or BBC2 post-show discussions. The surprising thing about this Saturday night feast is how universally appealing it has become.
People who I wouldn’t imagine for a second would have the slightest bit of interest in dancing have confessed to me that they are avid ‘Strictly’ fans, music fans who normally regard even Mozart as a ‘bit commercial’ are ‘fessing-up’ to being X Factor devotees and people of all ages seem to be revelling in the jungle antics of the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk and the truly appalling David Van Day.What is actually quite nice about all this – and one of the reasons why I think this relatively easy entertainment has started to mean so much to so many – is that it takes all our minds away from the increasingly depressing news we hear, day in, day out.
The savage effects of the credit crunch are already being felt by the minority (and the majority also feel nervous that it is just around the corner for them as well) so to be able to lose yourself for a few hours at least in watching Rachel Stevens do her foxtrot, JLS attempt to sing a Take That song or even an ex-member of the EastEnders cast being asked to eat the penis of a kangaroo can be a helpful (if disturbing) distraction.
In fact, thinking about it, maybe I am wrong about Mr Sergeant. With the news being so depressing maybe he will be pleased that his future obit writers will remember him as a man who brought a smile to our face as he dragged his partner around the stage rather than as a deliverer of the nightly gloom.
Happy viewing folks.

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