Robert Smith: Armchair Critic

ROBERT SMITH returns with his take on Raoul Moat, Steve Jones and Mary Portas.

101 Ways bbc Mary Portas Nemone Queen of Shops Raoul Moat Rolling News Steve Jones total Wipeout

As much as we may want television to be escapist, real life has a horrible tendency to invade the idiot box. When this happens the results are predictably idiotic. No prizes if you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about the rolling news coverage of Raoul Moat’s eventual suicide.

While getting ready for a night out I tuned into the coverage with a few friends. After briefly toying with the idea of creating a twisted drinking game around the BBC’s commentary we decided that our reputations as decent human beings were probably damaged enough already and turned off the telly to play a good old fashioned game of Twenty One instead.

My problem with the rolling news coverage of the tragic conclusion of the Raoul Moat case is precisely that it could be turned into a drinking game. Cameramen get in the way of police vehicles trying to get to the scene? Take a drink. The voiceover gives you open ended details proving they have no idea what is going on? Take a drink. The roving reporter mercilessly badgers a local person who might have some scant information? Take a drink.

At best there was no point to the rolling news coverage and at worst it exacerbated what was already a very delicate situation. I don’t see how clueless commentary running over murky shots of policeman in hedges was in the public interest. Take away the camera and microphone and Jon Sopel’s insistence on getting information out of traumatised people would turn him into a meddling and insensitive lunatic. I’d carry on, but anything I could say about rolling news has already been said in a much more skillful way by Mr. Charlie Brooker.

Elsewhere, the BBC proved that light entertainment could be just as depressing as live coverage of a suicide with 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow. The old truism ‘talent borrows, genius steals’ can often be seen in the work of a television commissioner. Total Wipeout is an unashamed rip-off of the sublime cult classic Takeshi’s Castle, but this doesn’t stop it being the Citizen Kane of people falling into water. The problem with commissioning telly almost always arises, however, when the decision is made to combine two formats.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow is a spectacular example of these Frankenstein creations, as it tries to combine regular gameshow questions with the dramatic splashes of Total Wipeout. Inevitably, it does neither very well. The questions aren’t stimulating or interesting and, even worse, the unavoidable tumbles into the swimming pools happen far too infrequently and are anticlimactic as a result. Steve Jones and Nemone are thrown into the mix to satisfy the ‘yoof’ demographic that every telly boss now fawns over obsessively and the final insult is that the whole thing takes place in a ridiculously extravagant multi-storey tower that has been specially built for the programme. For the same money they could have booked everyone involved in the production of this show into Dignitas and paid Steve Jones enough money to disappear from our screens for the rest of his hollow life. Quite how all this mediocrity is stretched over a full hour is still baffling to me.

So was there anything worth watching this week? Well thankfully the BBC managed to justify its existence with an excellent new series of Mary Queen of Shops. Unlike many TV ‘experts’ Mary Portas actually knows what she is talking about and eschews the usual personality gimmicks. This series has seen her turning her considerable talent to independent retailers of many different persuasions. This week it was the turn of John Peers, a formerly award winning hair stylist whose business was in desperate need of recovery. John was the definition of lovely warm-hearted Northerner and seeing Mary turn his business, and his self-esteem, around was a pleasure to watch. Anyone considering setting up their own retail business should be made to watch Mary in action. At the very least they should be asked to construct an elaborate drinking game around her show.