17 MAY 2003, Page 78

Brighton rocked

Simon Hoggart

Iwas next door in the Brighton Metropole on the early morning of 12 October 1984 when the bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel. I was too tired and too drunk even to get off the bed and get ready for sleep, and I can still see the way that the TV — most televisions had legs in those days, if you recall — did a little dance in the corner of the room. When I got to the window I could see a great grey cloud of smoke and dust erupt from the front door of the Grand, and a policeman was slowly rearranging the movable fencing to block off the pavement. He got into an argument with a merrymaker who wanted to get past, and that, after the explosion itself, was the only noise 1 could hear. For the first few minutes it was dreadfully quiet; the screaming came later.

I mention all this only to say that there was something curiously dry and downbeat about Secret History.Brighton Bomb on Channel 4. I kept wanting to shout at the screen, 'No, it was worse than that. And much, much stranger.' Why no shots of Sir Keith Joseph, wandering around the beach in his silk dressing-gown, clutching his red box, in case the whole event was a plot to grab the secrets of his education policy? Nothing about the bizarre ad hoc cocktail party in the Metropole, where members of the Cabinet drank brandy at five in the morning and tried to work out who was alive and who was missing.

They'd interviewed a curiously small group of people: Norman Tebbit, whose wife remains paralysed and who has never fully recovered himself; Margaret Thatcher's secretary, Lady Berry, who lost her husband; and the IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan, who knew Patrick Magee, the bomber, and was able to fill us in on what he might have been thinking. Or might not. There was a good description of Mrs Thatcher getting onto her knees and thank

ing God for being on her side just what we need, more world leaders with their own personal insight into God's thinking — but on the whole the programme looked like an opportunity missed.

So was Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (BBC2), a rehash of the old party game in

which people imagine their dream dinner party. My fellow Spectator columnist Joan Collins had chosen, among others, Picasso, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe and JFK. She began by describing her ideal dinner: 'Round the kitchen table, with six or eight friends who you know really well, and we

can cook spaghetti ' I bet every guest on this show says much the same. Not one will announce: 'My ideal dinner is something really formal with lots of people who don't know each other, and an impossibly grand meal served by liveried Filipinos on a table so highly polished you'd want to die

if the tiniest drop of jus hit it '

The reason this doesn't work is because all the characters are dead. Who cares whether JFK would have flirted with Cleopatra? Imagining it doesn't bring us anything — no information, no mental picture. Now what would be fun would be constructing a dinner party of real living people: get Ian McKellan next to David Beckham, or Clare Short with Sir Roy Strong, and film that. But it would cost money.

The Sitcom Stoly (BBC1) was weird. It was delightful to see — rather too short — clips from the classics of the past, though it must be said that shots of Terry Scott falling into a park lake do not prove the contention that Terry and June was a much underrated show. But what was Dawn French, who presented the whole thing, thinking of? Who wrote that appalling script? Why did she have a gardening trowel on her sofa, and why did she, more or less explicitly, say that she was feeling happy because it had lodged inside her vagina? Perhaps the notion was that having links which were embarrassingly unfunny would make the sitcoms themselves seem even more wonderful. It didn't work.

And now an apology. Two weeks ago 1 may have implied that I'm a Celebrity — Get Me Out Of Here (ITV) was gripping television. In fact, by the time it ground to a halt this week. I was as bored as the celebrities themselves, drearily draped round the jungle clearing, performing increasingly pointless and unamusing tasks, exchanging small talk, resolutely refusing to bitch at each other, existing in some frightful huis clos and generally spreading a pall of tedium over the schedules every night. I would like to express regret if my remarks caused any inconvenience; for example, if they made you watch it.

I realise I am in a minority here. The audiences were a quarter up on last year's Celebrity, it got double the ratings of Murder In Mind and nearly four times The Cambridge Spies, both on the BBC. I think the most narcoleptically dull aspect of the show were the innumerable layers of fakery. Everything was artificial to begin with, right down to the plastic crocodiles, but on top of that the footage was manipulated ruthlessly to bring in a few faint glimmers of drama and conflict. As I said the other day, there is more gritty reality in a single episode of Poirot.