7 MARCH 1992, Page 40


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Martyn Harris

Self-consciousness came to television comedy with Monty Python's spoofing of newsreaders and continuity announcers ('And now for something completely differ- ent'). In The Mary Whitehouse Experience (BBC 2, 9 p.m., Monday) it goes one fur- ther by anticipating the things people at home say to their television sets. To skinny TV weather girl Suzanne Charlton, for instance, we shout 'Eat! Eat!'. To Jimmy Hill we do his own drawn-out, nasal 'We- e-II', accompanied by reflective massaging of massive chin. To Luciano Pavarotti it is, 'Get off, you fat git!' or alternatively, 'Give some to Suzanne Charlton!'

This is a very smart series, full of oblique and witty insight, such as David Baddiel's remark that, 'It is impossible for me to sit 45 seconds in a library without developing a non-negotiable hard-on'. There followed a point-proving shot of a hushed library reading-room full of industrious toilers, from which the camera angle gradually widens to reveal the notice: 'Tense sexual atmosphere please!' This kind of observa- tion is much harder to do than routine political parody, and the show slid only once into this area with a sketch of Tory Party spin doctors who, noticing the posi- tive impact of promiscuity on the poll rat- ings of Paddy Ashdown and Bill Clinton, set about creating some sexual charisma for John Major. Did we know that John has slept with Steffi Graf, romped with Julia Roberts and had his leg over Maureen Lip- man? He might be a pussy-cat in Parlia- ment, but he's an animal between the sheets, they told us, and we told our TV set ITHE TERRIBLE scavPsqa

OF MAI) BANK we would watch this show again.

In Russia, where I have been for the last eight weeks, the thing people say most often to the TV is, 'Hasn't this got CNN?' Domestic Russian telly is unbelievably dire, being mostly 'cultural' stuff, meaning choirs, ballets and folk operas, or 'progres- sive', meaning incompetent animations stumbling under the weight of political metaphors. CNN is available in every hotel and many middle-class homes and has become virtually synonymous with Western freedoms. In fact it is disappointingly drab, consisting mainly of adverts for potato- peelers, adverts for itself and pompous sign-offs that are longer than the soppy 'human interest' features which they termi- nate: 'This is is Carl-Marcus Kratzenburger for CNN in Bad Godesberg, on the day that Helmut Kohl's cat got herpes.... ' I told my TV set that with a little investment the BBC could run a TV World Service which would see this rubbish off the screen.

Back in Crouch End I went for a fast infusion of crude capitalism, settling down with my son to watch the Work/ Wrestling Federation Prime Time show on Sunday (Sky Sports, 1 p.m.). `Look out, he's got a hammer!' we shouted, and, 'Rip his head off!' This programme is a cult for boys aged between five and ten but also has a camp following among older groups. The wrestlers are already halfway to being car- toon characters, with names like Mr Psy- cho, Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice and Macho Man. They all have permanent waves, capped teeth, Lycra tights and peanut- butter tans and spend most of the pro- gramme shouting challenges at each other and making bloodcurdling boasts about the damage they will wreak on their next oppo- nent. It is great fun and no worse for the brain than the average Russian folk opera. 'Hit him with the coffin!' we told our telly, and, 'Look out for the folding chair!'