3 MAY 2008, Page 53

Jane’s sex problem

James Delingpole

I’m always on the lookout for writers who’ve had well-paid, fun, fulfilled lives but I hardly ever find them. Jane Austen, for example. You’d think that the very least God would have given her in return for Emma and Pride and Prejudice would have been a single man in possession of a good fortune, a long, happy marriage and lots of lovely kiddies.

But no, God really hates writers, preferring to smile on Dan Brown. If you’re Jane Austen, the deal is you get a pretty rubbish life as an impoverished spinster, but the moment you’re dead everyone thinks you’re great, and goes on remaking films of your novels and slushy drama-docs with pretty girls in bonnets well into the 21st century. ‘Thanks, God,’ she’s no doubt thinking sourly as she looks down from her cloud. ‘But I think I’d have preferred the life rather than the posterity.’ Miss Austen Regrets (BBC1, Sunday) was writer Gwyneth Hughes’s attempt to make sense of this using some of the letters Austen wrote to her niece Fanny. The most exciting bit was in the first 30 seconds, when a man with a nice house proposed to Jane and she said, ‘Yes.’ Next morning, she was shown leaving in a carriage having changed her mind. And that was it really. No amount of bonnetry, agreeable gardens (a particularly impressive starry-shaped maze, I thought) and all-star (Hugh Bonneville, Olivia Williams, etc.) period acting could disguise the awkward fact that Jane never did get her Darcy and didn’t have sex. This no doubt made for great literary inspiration but not watchable TV.

The Apprentice (BBC1, Wednesday) is on its best run ever. ‘Sir Alan’ has really got into his stride, now, as the bastard in the boardroom, his sidekicks Margaret and Nick have perfected their expressions of aghast disdain at the candidates’ greed, mendacity, incompetence and double-dealing, and the candidates themselves are plumbing new depths of unutterable revoltingness.

Raef (the one who swans round in his cravats and dressing-gown like a maharaja’s son at Eton in the 1930s) ought surely to win because he’s capable and charming. In the meantime, though, ‘Sir Alan’ appears to have developed a new sacking policy: whatever the circumstances keep the evil scheming bitch and the slimy toerag because the viewers need someone to hate.

Those of us who still thought the show was about finding the best candidate for some 100K work experience in Sugar’s business were brutally disabused in episode four, when ‘Sir Alan’ wantonly fired the decent, likeable, efficient ex-military man Simon Smith. Smith’s main shortcoming was that he wasn’t as shifty as the bestubbled, doe-eyed Machiavel Alex, nor as cold and sharkily merciless as Claire. I wish it were otherwise because then I wouldn’t have to waste an hour watching every week.

Heroes is back for a new series (BBC2, Thursday), which I was quite prepared to enjoy as much as I do The Apprentice, till I read about creator Tim Kring’s Ratnerlike apology to fans for having made it too slow. Apparently it doesn’t recover its pace till episode seven — it took the script team time to respond to the 15 per cent drop in its audience figures — and the storyline where Hiro goes back to 17th-century Japan is said to go on far too long.

Maybe I’ve got a longer attention span than the show’s US audience, but I didn’t find the first episode so bad. There are some new supercharacters — a Guatamalan brother and sister who seem to have this thing where they accidentally massacre people, a bit like the foxy blonde schizo used to in series one. And some nice little subplots, like the ex-sinister-man-with-the-hornrimmed-glasses attempting to settle down to a new life of normality in California — which isn’t easy when you formerly ran a CIA-style agency of ruthless killers and your adopted, autoregenerative daughter can chop off her limbs and grow them back as a lizard does its tail. Suresh is still unbelievably dull, though. And the fake Irish accents done by American actors in the scene set in Cork were almost worthy of the Mancunian cockney in Frasier.

Peep Show (C4, Friday) is back for a fifth series and, not before time, viewers, critics, award panels and commissioning editors finally seem to agree that it’s the funniest, cleverest home-grown sitcom on TV. The last one ended in spectacularly low style with Jeremy (Robert Webb) jilting his fiancée at the altar and then embarrassedly relieving himself against the church wall. ‘Yes, you can talk the talk, Richard Dawkins,’ went his self-justificatory interior monologue. ‘But can you walk the walk?’