Three comedians, some boats, some questions

Boat on beach. L Rouse

Someone out there is desperate to know whether Griff Rhys Jones is gay. I don’t why he or she thinks he might be but for the last few days the search terms ‘griff rhys jones gay’ and ‘is griff rhys jones gay?’ have repeatedly referred someone, maybe more than one person, to my site. The joys of blog stats.

I really can’t answer the question and am not that interested in the answer – he’s married, isn’t he? Not that that means anything and, listen up lawyers, I AM NOT insinuating anything about Mr Jones’ personal life, merely reporting the fact that at least one other person in the blogosphere is asking the question. I know, I know. Repetition of a libel is no defence.

I did enjoy the second half of Three Men in More Than One Boat last night on BBC 2 which saw a slight change in format to the adventures of Jones, Dara O’Briain and Rory McGrath mucking about on or near water. Having missed the first part of this little misadventure, I gathered this much: it featured three now quite jowly comedians doing quirkily British things like bird-watching (feather and female), sitting in pubs and laughing about how much the sea rolls about when it’s really quite inclement. Lots of weather, lots of silly clothing, a few laughs (particularly at the rear shots of poor old O’Briain in clearly too-tight, all-weather, all-in-one pantaloons).

Jones contained his now legendary temper, possibly because he or the producers had wisely decided not to use his own boat as part of the programme. McGrath was beery and leery and O’Briain did his best to retain his Mock the Week style of aloof comedy without being submerged by waves of primetime, mid-week BBC2 cosy comedy. He just about managed. It was OK but that’s enough from the Three Men in some boats format. Out with the old, in with the new.

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The power of man

Dog tombstone

Forget advertising on the side of a bus. Paul Merton in India (Five, 9pm on Wednesday) showed us that the anti-God squad in India would rather pull a bus with the help of a rope and a few needles through three layers to skin to prove that miracles are the work of man and not of the Lord. Let’s see that on the streets of London. Preferrably with an Indian George Michael-alike on hand to explain the whole ritual. Fantastic stuff – am enjoying Paul Merton a lot.

Over on ITV (at the same time, but use your online catch-up service, people), Griff Rhys Jones was in Paris for the last of three Greatest Cities of the World episodes. Here, he visited among other things the Parisian pet cemetary, which is a surreal place. Anyone with a fascination for handbag-sized pooches should visit to get an idea of how their owners can obsess over them in life and death.

I recall one inscription, which has become bastardised in the memory over the years to go something like this: “My darling Frou Frou – since the night you were senselessly mown down by a speeding Velo my life ‘as been an unending river of misery. Dormez bien, little one. I will see you in ‘eaven very soon and of course I will bring you a box of your most beloved liqueur chocolats avec moi.”


Paul Merton in India and Griff in NYC

Paul Merton in China
ITV's Greatest Cities Griff Rhys Jones

I watched Paul Merton in India list night on Five (that’s him in China above, in an earlier series). I watched, like 1.8m other plebs, in real time, as it was actually broadcast. Then my preview tapes for the programme arrived in the post today. Handy. Sometimes I regret moving to Somerset, away from the immediacy of courier bikes.

This morning, instead of writing the feature which is due on Monday, I’ve watched the first of three Greatest Cities of the World with Griff Rhys Jones on ITV’s online catch-up service (which is excellent, perhaps because I’m watching it in the day when the Americans are asleep and not slowing down the internet).

So now I can compare and contrast. If you can’t be arsed to read any further, let me just say you should watch them both but for different reasons. Paul Merton is funny, though not as witty as I expected him to be, and the show is light and distracting. Griff’s Greatest Cities is chocolate-a-blocolate full of facts and covers tons of stuff in 60 minutes. Modern Television which made the ITV show with Griff, had an hour each for New York, London and Paris. Paul Merton and production company Tiger Aspect have six hour-long episodes to cover India. Not sure which is the better deal.

A few more comments – and this will have to be quick because I’ve just taken a “can you do this in 24 hours” call; why can’t people plan ahead? Merton’s starting point for exploring India (he went to China for six-part series for Five last year) is that India is a paradox: a leading nuclear power and a place where people worship snakes. That doesn’t seem paradoxical. Being a nuclear power and a snake worshipper are both pretty nutty, if you ask me. As I say, Merton wasn’t as witty as I’d expected him to be though I did enjoy his sicky fake burp produced at the school of etiquette to demonstrate his appreciation of a meal. And his “Are we going on somewhere?” line when a naked man started to wander away from the group getting stoned at a religious festival made me laugh a lot. Not sure what that says about me.

By contrast the facts came thick and fast in Griff’s New York programme. Fifty per cent of everything that enters the US from goods to people has come through the port at the base of Manhattan. More than 15m flags are made in the US every year. The average New Yorker chucks out 600 times their own body weight in waste every year, most of it ending up in landfill 300 miles away in West Virginia.

Modern TV clearly had a much larger research team working on the programme than Merton and Tiger Aspect had on theirs. Strange, because Tiger Aspect are a huge company (makers of The Catherine Tate Show among many others things) and I’ve never heard of Modern TV before now.

Griff also had some really good ideas to chew on – like seeing a city as a way that people can live out their lives without bumping into each other. Something like Frank Kermode’s nodes, a concept with which I’m passingly familiar. But, when you think about it, it’s actually much easier to live your life in the rural countryside without bumping into anything else, and I should know.

Merton’s programme was thought-provoking in a different way, as in tackling the (almost no longer existent) taboo over male genitals. While it may be wrong to tie your cock to a rock and thus lift that rock, what indeed is wrong with sitting around with a group of naked, slightly dusty men all day? It reminded me of so many childhood holidays on the nudist beaches of southern France. I religiously wore a swimsuit. My parents didn’t bother.

Finally I must mention Griff’s terrifying scene dangling 30 floors up at the top of a New York skyscraper to clean windows (George Formby had it easy) which gained added spice from the knowledge that he’d just “lost it” with his director, as we saw at the beginning of the second episode of his BBC 2 show on anger.

Ha! It doesn’t matter that the BBC immediately withdrew the show from their iPlayer and deleted all trace of it from my laptop for still mysterious reasons. I saw the beginning and I saw Griff telling his director to eff off as he balanced perilously on a concrete ledge with only a ropey old harness for safety. Frankly, I don’t blame him for being a bit testy in the circumstances. But I must keep going to my anger management classes.


Tonight: battle of the comedy travelogues

That should probably read ‘battle of the comedians’ travelogues’ but punction is never good in a headline, is it? I’m pushing it with the colon.

Paul Merton and Griff Rhys Jones (not my favourite person currently – see earlier post) are going head to head tonight on Five and ITV 1 respectively with travel programmes, Merton from India and Rhys Jones from New York. I’m tempted to say that I’ll watch Merton on Five just to spite Griff on ITV 1 because I couldn’t watch all of his two-part Losing It series on BBC 2. But that would be childish and futile, since Griff has already made World’s Greatest Cities for ITV and it patently wasn’t his fault that his BBC 2 programme disappeared from the BBC iPlayer. At least, I don’t think it was.

I’ll probably watch Merton anyway – not that I was sent a preview in time to give you all a taster here. But I did see an amusing clip at a promo event at the Edinburgh TV Festival which featured Merton among naked holy men at a hilltop festival. With a shrivelled black penis in shot, Merton turned to the camera and asked: “Is this the sort of trail you’re after for Five?” It promises good things. 9pm tonight.


Eli Stone, Jamie Oliver and some of Griff

So much to blog about, so little time. First, the quickest of updates on recent telly watching. Eli Stone on Sci-Fi was disappointing. Yes, it has Johnny Lee Miller and George Michael in it, two of the sexiest men in the world. (What do you mean, one of them’s gay? Like we would be riding off into the sunset together if only THAT weren’t an obstacle.) But when it came to it, My Big Fat Michael only appeared in a couple of scenes and I’d seen them all on t’interweb beforehand anyway. His music and fleeting appearance were cheap ruses to lure me into what was otherwise a standard, schmalzy, glossily-shot American comedy/drama. The ruses worked, but I went to bed halfway through the second ep of the double bill. At least I can now say I’ve watched the Sci-Fi channel at least once.

Secondly, the second ep of Jamie’s Ministry of Food. It’s still a good programme and a lovely idea – that the nation will learn to cook, one unto another, by passing on recipes that don’t involve packets of crisps or chips with cheese. I like the characters we’re meeting in the show: Natasha, who seems to have left the pawn shop behind her now and started growing vegetables amid the Pitbull turds in her back garden. I also like the miner who’d never picked up a pan until he met Jamie and now can’t stop tossing pasta in a creamy sauce in his wife’s beautiful, white kitchen. And of course I love Jamie and I wish he’d ask me what’s the matter when I come out crying from an ultrasound scan.

But I was brought up short by AA Gill’s criticism at the weekend of the basic premise of this programme and of Oliver’s Pass It On movement. At first I thought Gill’s critique amounted to the standard right-wing rantings of a reactionary who, in his words, believes TV is a “show and tell medium, not a look-and-learn one”. It seems Gill doesn’t think TV can or should change anything – as if Jamie’s school dinners has not at least started a process by which Turkey Twizzlers will be eradicated from school meals.

But then he made a crucial and perhaps irrefutable point. That the idea that working people traditionally handed down culinary skills from mother to daughter is a fallacy. That working people have traditionally been too over-worked and poor in other ways to cook at home, preferring to eat at cafes and stalls, just as they graze from McDonald’s and kebab shops today. If true, it puts us bleeding heart liberals back in the corner of the blue kitchen, having to accept people as they are (see my post Let Them Eat Cake TV) rather than trying to change what can never be changed. Resignation not revolution. Pragmatism rather than idealism. The way things are, rather than the way we’d like them to be.

Compare Robert Yates writing in The (left-leaning) Observer who exemplified the bleeding heart liberal desire to change a status quo that bleeding heart liberals don’t like (that some people don’t cook, are poor and unhealthy). The right-wing pragmatists like Gill say it’s always been thus and ever will be. I dunno, I’m just watching the programme and cooking tea like I always do for the kids.

Finally – and thanks for bearing with me, this is saving me a lot in therapist bills – why o bloody why was the second and final part of Losing It with Griffy Rhys Jones inexplicably withdrawn from the BBC iPlayer? This has done nothing for my tentative steps towards better anger management. I was liderally halfway through watching the second ep – we’d got to the Buddhist nun and I was thinking I’ve never heard of one of those before – when the thing stopped dead on my laptop. The next day the entire downloaded programme was deleted from my computer by Big Brother BBC. It is no longer available on the iPlayer.

Could it have anything to do with Griff apparently losing it bigtime during filming of World’s Greatest Cities which airs tonight on ITV 1? I don’t know coz I didn’t get to see all of the friggin’ programme but if I meet anyone from the BBC in the next couple of weeks I will punch them hot dang on the dingy. How’s that for not losing it?


Losing It with Griff Rhys Jones


BBC 2’s Losing It is about a subject close to my own psyche: unbridled rage. It was fascinating and depressing all at the same time. Fascinating because Griff hit the nail on the head when he said anger was a taboo subject, that while people are happy to admit to the quality (good or bad) of their sex lives or to depression or other sorts of disease, most people are unwilling to admit they have a terrible temper and that they can therefore lose control.

It is the loss of control that can be frightening when someone gets angry – for the person losing it but also, much more keenly, for those who witness it. That might or might not include those on the receiving end of the anger, but it also crucially includes those who simply have to stand by and, as Griff’s former agent explained, feel the room fill up with one person’s fury.

My own particular anger falls into what George Galloway (of all effing people) called the dishonourable category of anger: one where it is directed at those more vulnerable than yourself. My children, say. Galloway said that controlled anger (can there be such a thing? Griff didn’t explore that) can be used effectively to rally people to a cause and is therefore honourable.

Dishonourable anger directed at someone a tenth your age is clearly wrong. However frustrating children are – and of course they are. Just as the pressure of certain situations is real, such as having to get to school at a certain time and not when it suits those who would rather put their shoes on the wrong feet, then take them off again and run round the house collecting large, stuffed toys to carry half-way to school only to dump them onto you for the rest of the journey.

Yet anger borne of frustration at things we would like to control but ultimately can’t is the anger many of us feel most often. I do, just like Griff, get angry with people who aren’t doing things they way I think they should be done, who are somehow obstructing my otherwise smooth progress through life and who are idiots generally.

Heston Blumenthal had it all right when he cackhandedly said it’s about how we respond to situations and how we angry people are incompatible with the world as it is, rather than the other way around. We are not saints whose patience is tested by endless fleets of incompetents. A saint would never get angry, whatever the circumstances. There are no excuses. We’re angry people and we should find a better way to deal with it.

Next week we’ll get tips on dealing with aggression and see inside a Los Angeles anger management course. I, like Griff, am waiting to hear how to finally slay the red dragon within. So I shall indeed be watching again next week, if only to see whether the bizarrely vasilined soft focus edges to the first film were a result of watching on the iPlayer and to discover the explanation – there must be one – for the freakishly long nails on the fingers of one of Griff’s hands.