22 APRIL 2000, Page 44


Fleeting happiness

James Delingpole

some time now, I have been feeling For messed up and disillusioned about pretty much everything. My new house is an utter toilet and I now realise it will be years before it's properly inhabitable. I have Lyme disease and no one believes me. My shares have all gone down. I'm not going to be an Internet millionaire. Journalism is a truly useless way of earning a living, espe- cially now it's so heavily controlled by the PR industry. I deserve a big, well-paid 'me' column in a national newspaper and no one has offered me one. I haven't touched my new novel for about two months and won't ever be happy until it's going well again. Everything I write is rubbish.

And, as if to remind me how ineffably shite life is, we have just been going through possibly the worst six months of TV in the history of the medium. Go on. Tell me I'm not right. How many times have you rolled home from work, gagging for a bit of televisual distraction from the horrors of existence, only to find that there's nothing — absolutely nothing worth watching?

No surprise then that I should have felt so pathetically grateful and bizarrely euphoric when the other night I managed to spend a good four hours in front of the box and everything I watched was really brilliant. Okay, so I cheated slightly: I filled in some of the gaps with preview videos. But, even so, I think there are signs that we're turning a corner here. Even Frasier's back on form.

My evening of fleeting happiness began `If you want people to trust you and your message, shave off your beard.' with Ray Mears's Extreme Survival (BBC 2, Thursday), which I love because it tells you about some of the more interesting and horrible ways in which you can die. And, more practically, how to avoid them. The episode I saw (last week's), taught you about surviving grizzly bear attacks (e.g. don't climb trees: they're better at it than you). Mears is a solemn sort and I'll bet he doesn't really like talking about such trivial things: he'd rather teach you for the umpteenth time how to make fire when you've no matches or show you how to live on slugs. But I guess someone has had a word in his ear and explained that teeth and claws are what the viewers want, hence his tabloidish question to a grizzled out- doorsman: 'And what's the worst grizzly bear incident you can recall?' Ah,' replied the outdoorsman helpfully, 'that would be the time when a friend of mine had his head taken clean off with one swipe of a grizzly's razor claws.'

I shan't dwell too long on When Louis Met Jimmy (BBC 2, Thursday) because again it was on last week. But it did make absolutely gripping viewing because, for once, Louis. Theroux's unsettlingly faux- nail interviewing technique was brought to bear on a subject slippery enough to deserve it: Jimmy Savile. Despite his moth- er fixation, his confessions that he's never had a proper girlfriend, that in his days as a nightclub manager he would tie up miscre- ants and lock them in a basement, and that the reason he professes to hate children is to kill tabloid rumours that he's a pae- dophile, Savile was bullyingly determined to make out that he was a perfectly normal person. Theroux's gentle but insistent sug- gestion was that, perhaps, he wasn't. The clever thing was, you ended up sympathis- ing with both points of view.

Now to quite the most surprising star of the current viewing schedules: Bob Martin (ITV, Sunday), a satirical comedy series in which Michael Barrymore plays virtually himself as a tacky game-show host. What could very easily have been a poor man's homegrown version of The Larry Sanders Show turns, out to be an acutely observed, sharply scripted, gloriously well-acted and often hilariously funny portrait of the emetic world of showbiz.

In fact it's so good that I can't quite believe it's on ITV. The jokes are way too intelligent and knowing (the running gag about Barrymore's character being a closet gay — which, of course, Barrymore was himself, until he came out a few years ago to everyone's surprise; the in-joke that Paul Ross's career is almost motivated by the need to acquire more freebies). They're way too rude, too, like the Keith Allen character's bitchy suggestion that Bob Mar- tin's nocturnal social life consists of 'a cup of Ovaltine and a wank'. If our TV compa- nies are capable of producing shows of this calibre, there's hope for us yet. Well, hope for you, anyway. As for me, I fear I'm a lost case.