TV COLUMN: Euro ’96, EU referendum, Big Brother, Springwatch

James Waller-Davies

James Waller-Davies

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At the start of the week, with football hooliganism all over our televisions, it wouldn’t have been beyond belief to think the French might secretly en masse slip through the tunnel on June 23rd and vote for Brexit.

Never one of our best exports, hooliganism seems to blight the national reputation every time there’s a football tournament close enough to go and smash up. Whilst not in the same league as the carnage of the France World Cup of 1998, it remains rather sad that relatively minor fracases of throwing bottles at French police and having the streets filled with tear gas counts as relative normality.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, England continue to exert the kind of grotesque torture on their real fans that would have been illegal in the Middle Ages. An injury time Russia goal was the first twist of the knife.

Against Wales, Gareth Bale proved he has some kind of free-kick hoodoo over goalkeepers, as he slipped his second long-range, but eminently saveable, free-kick past Joe Hart, having done it first against Slovakia. The “here we go again” T-shirts were being unpacked, only for England to get the injury time goal this time. The country cheered to the accompaniment of the sound of breaking Welsh hearts.

The theatre and spectacle of sport is enough. I really don’t see how the experience is enhance by getting drunk in someone else’s home, chanting monosyllabic yawps and smashing the place up to the embarrassment of every else at home. Perhaps I’m missing something?

The EU referendum coverage has reached carpet-bombing proportions on television. The only solace that can be taken from the unremittingly dull drone of the referendum ‘debate’ is that it will be over soon.

One little ray of sunshine amongst the debate gloom was the sight of Nigel Farage and Sir Bob Geldof splicing their mainsails and shivering their timbers at each other on the Thames.

There was something of the eighteenth century about the political ridiculousness of it all. It was the sort of mock epic of which Alexander Pope or Jonathan Swift would have been proud. The ‘Battle of the Thames’ has already gone down as one of the ‘great’ navel battles of our time. There was something Lilliputian about it all; the preposterousness; the smallness; the pettiness. The greatest decision of our age being decided by two puffed-up egos in dinghies, decided by a duel of water spouts and megaphones.

Big Brother (Channel 5) and Spingwatch (BBC2) have a lot in common. Simply point a camera at something and see what happens. ‘Reality’ television.

Anyone watching both this week – and I appreciate the audience overlap must be pretty small – would have had to question in just which direction is evolution moving?

If Charles Darwin had abruptly time-machined himself in front of these programmes, he might have reconsidered his Origin of Species, because quite from where the inmates of the Big Brother house emerged from is almost unexplainable.

It’s 16 years since the first series of Big Brother made its debut. Whether you loved it or loathed it then, you couldn’t ignore it. There was a freshness about it; it was edgy.

Now it’s a tired, contorted, cut-n-paste concoction. It’s Frankenstein TV. It really should crawl away somewhere and die in a secluded corner where no one will see it. Maybe that’s why it’s on Channel 5.

Spingwatch, however, continues to enthral. The week’s stars were the family of baby stoats. Everyone go ahhhh.