29 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 75

Bleak view

Simon Hoggart

T AST Saturday I watched a tape of LeMonkey Dust (BBC 3) and the next day saw Love Actually, the new Richard Curtis film. These are two quite different visions of modern Britain. Monkey Dust is an animated sketch show and often very funny indeed, but the picture it draws of our country is unremittingly bleak and ghastly. When you see Love Actually, you think 'Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to live somewhere like that, where the people are good-looking, witty and well-dressed, living in a beautiful, clean, safe and glittering city where even the porn stars are charming ingenues?' It chilled the cockles of my heart.

This is not the world Monkey Dust inhabits. In a Richard Curtis film there is generally a school concert in which happy, integrated pupils improvise brilliant jazz routines to wild applause. In Monkey Dust the parents gather to see a production of Romeo and Juliet in which someone has added the word 'motherfucker' to each line of the balcony scene. A smug teacher explains he did this 'to help the kids engage with Shakespeare'.

It's unsparing. A Muslim fanatic warns the people of Britain: 'This Wednesday, death and destruction will rain upon your heads.' An oafish football fan pleads, 'You can't do Wednesday, it's West Brom v. Villa on pay-per-view!' So the Ayatollah continues, This Thursday.

A television historian, strangely like Simon Schama, talks about the Battle of Stirling, and we cut to a pub where a bunch of drunken hooligans are watching. They chant 'One-nil to the Inger-land!' In Love Actually, people fall in love with improbable partners: tea ladies, Portuguese maids, lascivious secretaries with mouths like pillar boxes, and so on. In Monkey Dust a fat, ignorant English slob acquires a Thai mail-order bride. She adores his Vauxhall Vectra, his collection of Andy McNab books, and his polyester clothing. But she doesn't like sex, so the relationship ends. It's very snobbish, but sometimes snobbery is the only legitimate response to self-satisfied philistinism.

There is political satire about the present government: 'New Truth — up to ten times better than Old Truth!' Orwell meets Rory Bremner, But it's darker than the normal impressionist sketch show. We're not merely being invited to scoff at politicians and celebrities, to enjoy our sense of superiority over people who've never heard of us; we peer miserably at the worst of our nation. It is no more an accurate picture than Love Actually, if a great deal more displeasing. But it helps to nudge the balance.

I suspect that Monkey Dust will never make it to terrestrial TV. Like putting a stinky durian in the fruit salad: a few people would love it, most detest it.

Celebrities were all over The Importance of Being Famous (Channel 4, Tuesday). It was presented by Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror. Morgan knows a lot of these people, but he can't quite decide whether to admire or despise them. We were invited to be shocked that Vinnie Jones, the violent footballer and now parttime (veiy part-time) film star, had contemplated shooting himself after being denounced in Morgan's paper for trying to bite off a reporter's nose. Get a grip, both of you, is the only possible response.

We visited a launch party for Mr Jones's personally branded clothing range (would you like Vinnie Jones Y-fronts hugging your groin?) and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, yet again. Daniel Boorstin said that a celebrity was someone 'well-known for his well-knownness', but TPT goes further: she is well-known for nothing at ail. She wasn't even well-known when she became well-known. The most satisfying moment in the show came when no celebrities turned up for the Taller party. Not one! Yet, there it was, all over the television, the first party to become well-known for being entirely ignored by the well-known!

The Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy (BBC 2, Sunday) wasn't just thorough and gripping. It was a rare example of the BBC debunking something outright, instead of lazily presenting all kinds of batty, undigested views and piously telling the audience: 'Now you decide.' Well, for once we could decide. Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own. He was a nutcase who also happened to be a highly trained sniper. Case closed. Of course it won't be, but thank goodness the Beeb threw a heavy weight on to the right side of the scales. And no. Horizon, we won't be drowned by a 100 ft tidal wave next week.

Like everyone else, I watched the Rugby Union World Cup Final (ITV, Saturday) through my fingers. The commentary was fine, if more downbeat than Radio Five. But I suspect that if it becomes the popular mass sport the Rugby Union wants, they'll need someone to explain the fabulously complicated and ever-changing rules. I'm lucky: my son plays rugby at school and he explained everything. Most people aren't so fortunate. The regular commentators don't need to demean themselves by telling us peasants what a maul or a knock-on is: they could have some cheery, Eddie Waring figure to tell us.