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.