31 JANUARY 2004, Page 68

Tough work

Simon Hoggart

TTraced home on Monday to catch the first part of I'm a Celebrity .. . Get Me Out of Here (ITV) just in time to see Jordan, a 'model' with silicone-stuffed FF-cup breasts (am I alone in finding these roughly as erotic as a similar weight in mozzarella?) with a plastic goldfish bowl round her neck, half-filled with insects and snakes. She was amazingly brave. When they took the bowl off, the insects fell out, and a male hand reached forward to free the bosom of cockroaches. I was reminded of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Derek & Clive sketch: 'The worst job I ever had was cleaning the lobsters out of Jayne Mansfield's arse.'

Well, it's tough work, and, frankly, nobody has to do it. It's an unreality show. The tradition goes back not only to those Japanese programmes in which people compete to be roasted over open fires, but to Nineteen Eighty-Four and perhaps even the Roman circus. What we couldn't have predicted was the British, seaside-postcard feel of the whole thing, partly provided by Jordan (Donald McGill knew all about top-heavy women in their underwear) and partly by Ant and Dec, the cheeky Geordies, who make you feel the whole thing has been got up as a prank by your nephews, the scamps!

Yet the thing does seem dated. In the third year, we're still in the Australian rainforest, with rope bridges, scary wildlife and maniacal showing off. (John Lydon, the former Johnny Rotten, is shaping up to be a serious bore as he tries, with unimaginative desperation, to be still a bad lad.) Yet we will watch to the end, again. The British viewing public is like a wife, curled under the duvet, whose husband taps her on the shoulder. Finally, wearily, she agrees and rolls over. And, if the truth be known, she quite enjoys it in the end.

Tiger Aspect is a normally reliable independent company. This week it came up

with one excellent programme and a stumer. What a dispiriting mess Bosom Pals (BBC1) turned out to be! How could they go so wrong with those warm, funny, charming Beryl Cook ladies, all bumps and curves and lascivious smiles like slices of dripping watermelon? Or with voicers such as Timothy Span and the wondrous Alison Steadman? The answer was the script. It had no fewer than seven writers, meaning that each had to come up with three minutes of gags, which is harder than it sounds, but, still, you'd think they might have had a stab at it.

The theme, a boozy, girlie birthday party, sounds perfect. But it's not enough to be heartwarming; you need to be funny as well. The Simpsons has crackling scripts. Every line is a brilliant gag, or else advances the plot. Love-sick barman: 'You're the babe in my Babycharn' just doesn't cut it.

And it's lazy. At one point the women ponder the fact that they were sitting on the same pub bench when they heard that John Lennon was dead. But Lennon was shot at night in New York. We all heard the news first thing in the morning. Does this minor plot-stretch matter? Yes, because it makes the girls look stupid, which creates the worst crime in sitcom: neglecting character. The whole thing was put together in Hungary, which may or may not account for it.

Yet A Seaside Parish (BBC2) was from the same company. It says something for this series, about a woman vicar in the lovely Cornish seaside town of Boscastle, that they can get a cliff-hanger out of a prayer meeting and ham tea. How many people will turn up? I actually care, and will have to watch next week.

Everyone in Boscastle seems a little bit strange, including the Revd Christine Musser and her Kansan husband Brett — both divorcees — to say nothing of the folk-singing busker, who might become very annoying, and the local builders, who have come up with a truly original idea: a nude calendar! This will enable them to be photographed wearing nothing except a power drill. They also want the vicar to join in, and she is tempted.

As the photographer put it, If we don't have the nude vicar, everything is going to go pear-shaped and that's the bottom line.' As a piece of scriptwriting, that would have been bad enough for Bosom Pals, but spoken by a real person without a trace of irony, it was hilarious.

There was also a poignant scene. Christine runs six parishes, and one Sunday morning we see her and Brett running for the car so as not to be late for the next service — to which not a single person had come, so she carried out the rituals to an empty church. By contrast, though, the show works because in the end a vicar meets everyone in the place, so providing a crowded cast of characters, without any scriptwriting at all.