3 MAY 1997, Page 53


Friday night fillers

James Delingpole

Maybe he said it just to keep me happy, but I was awfully impressed when Dirk Bogarde told me once that he wasn't averse to a spot of Techno. His enthusiasm for rave culture guaranteed him a place on my list of all-time heroes. Others include John Peel and John Betjeman: I admire anyone who can age with dignity while simultaneously remaining young and groovy of heart.

This is probably a reflection of my fear that I might one day turn into a pompous old fart. My first inkling that this might happen came at school when I seemed to be the only person who hated The Young Ones. Smelly students shouting a lot in a squalid flat: what was so funny about that?

I'm similarly unimpressed by its Nineties successor, Sunnyside Farm (BBC 2, Friday), a view shared by my colleague Simon Hog- gart (Arts, 26 April). On paper, it must have looked a sure-fire winner in the yoof cult stakes. Besides Phil Daniels (suppos- edly hip having duetted on a Blur song), the cast includes Matt Lucas (aka baby- faced George Dawes from Shooting Stars); the script was written by two Fast Show and Harry Enfield contributors; and it features numerous topical references to bands like Pulp and Echobelly. What the script doesn't feature, unfortunately, is the mer- est scintilla of wit.

Sunnyside Farm could safely be ignored if it didn't occupy that all-important gap between Have I Got News For You (BBC 2) and Frasier (Channel 4). This means that you're forced to watch either Spin City `Well, according to Gardeners' Question Time it's a new strain of Egyptian mole.' (Channel 4), which is funnier but unduly reliant on politics (of which we've had rather too much lately), or The Grand (BBC 2), a superior drama set in a post- first world war Manchester hotel. It has fine acting and plenty of gratuitous sex but it's a bit heavy duty (traumatised war veter- ans, etc.) for a Friday night.

Frasier (a repeat of the first series) pre- sents problems of a different order. It's so damned good that anything you watch thereafter is bound to be a disappointment. To give stand-up comedian Phil Kay (Channel 4) his due, though, he did make a pretty heroic attempt to grab our attention in the ensuing slot by performing before his studio audience stark naked.

Kay is amiable, surreally amusing and quick-witted — like a cross between the young Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, on amphetamines. What's clever about his act is that it's completely ad-libbed. He'll take a prop from his audience — a lump of horse manure, say — and build an inge- nious routine around it. Once you've got over your awe at his mental agility, though, his adrenalised burblings do grow a mite wearing.

The reason I'm banging on about Friday night television, by the way, is that it's one of the most important cultural rituals in the lives of anyone between 16 and 30. And the high priest of this ritual is the man whose TFI Friday show cunningly bookends the evening's schedule (it's on Channel 4 at 6 p.m. and then repeated at 11.05), Chris Evans.

We all know that Evans is a bit of a grisly human being — arrogant, short-tempered, bullying and egotistical — but this is what makes his show so grotesquely watchable. `Gosh, how big and clever and daring and incredibly rich and oversexed I am!' he all but announces before every wacky new stunt (blowing up giant chocolate cakes, etc.), matey celebrity interview (the main point of which is to show that Chris is very much the equal of any international super- star), or weirdo slot (like Freak or Unique, in which members of the public humiliate themselves).

It's so nauseating that I've never man- aged to stomach a whole show. But no mat- ter how many times I vow never to watch it again, I keep coming back for more. Partly it's because it always attracts the hottest new bands, partly because there's nothing else decent to watch at that time of night, but mainly it's because I don't want to miss the episode when Evans finally cracks up and gets dragged away by the men in white coats.

He came pretty close a few months ago, I reckon, when he lost his job on the Radio One breakfast show. Evans must have known how tired and fraught he looked because he made a point of sticking out his furry tongue and showing the audience his medication.

But maybe he was just putting it all on to give his show a frisson of danger. These days, certainly, he seems to be healthier and cockier than ever. Which raises a prospect almost as grim as the nuthouse option: that the masses will turn on him, rather as the plebs did to Coriolanus. There's surely something suicidally incon- sistent in playing the lovable people's champion while simultaneously reminding them that you're infinitely richer, cleverer and more talented than they could ever hope to be.