Friday, 4 January 2013

Why do we put up with celebrity creeps on television and radio?

Bruno Tonioli
I finally succumbed to Strictly Come Dancing during the last series. I’ve managed to avoid it for years, but I watched one whole episode from beginning to end – and I was so impressed by the dancing of Olympic silver medallist Louis Smith (eventual winner) and Denise van Outen (eventual runner-up) that I was hooked.

But it had to be viewed on time delay in order to fast-forward through contributions from Bruno Tonioli, one of the judges, whose screamingly camp con brio routine – which seem to require him leaping up out of his seat, bellowing unfunny comments in a very loud voice, and gesticulating theatrically at every opportunity – make him the most slappable man on our TV screens at the moment (just ahead of “comedians” Alan Carr and Marcus Brigstocke).

Tonioli has one of those big, foreign, dial-turned-up-to-eleven personalities which tend to leave me wondering where I left my horse-whip. His humour is of the semaphoric pantomime variety which, I suspect, has people laughing out of sympathy and embarrassment rather than genuine mirth. It’s humour for the humourless. He must have genuine fans (I was astonished to learn that he performs a similar judgmental function on an American television programme – Dancing With Assholes, or somesuch), but one imagines his fan-base consists mainly of middle-aged women saddled with dull partners, who dream of holiday romances with waiters named Giuseppe or Abdul, or, failing that, a night on the town with Tonioli and his desperate, "effervescent" personality. Mind you, one suspects that after an hour in his company, they’d be looking for a horse-whip too.

(My wife – I'm relieved to report – can’t stand him either: she’s the one who fast-forwards whenever he appears on the screen. I may not be the most exciting husband on earth, but neither am I the dullest.)

Last year’s Savile revelations highlighted a particularly perplexing phenomenon: we actually don’t like many of the “personalities” who have infested our TV screens and radio sets over the past fifty years. In fact, we loathe quite a few of them. Which begs the question, why do media executives keep foisting them on us?

Here’s a partial list of media celebrities who, I suspect, the vast majority of us can’t stand (at least, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t work in broadcasting who has a good word to say for them): Piers Morgan, Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Beadle, Jeffrey Archer, Dave Lee Travis, Chris Evans, Chris Moyles, Gyles Brandreth, Robert Kilroy-Silk, John McCrirrick, Russell Harty, Jonathan King (even before the paedophilia conviction), Janet Street-Porter, Vanessa Feltz, Tess Daly, Vernon Kay, Noel Edmonds, Ted Rogers, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne, Frankie Dettori, Willy Carson… and do you remember Simon Dee?

If you’re lucky, you won’t have heard of many of these people. I wish I hadn’t.

But if the audience wasn’t willing to put up with them, they wouldn’t keep appearing on our screens, would they? What’s going on here?

Maybe it has something to do with the power of the remote control. If we were confronted by people like these at a drinks party, say, we’d start panicking and wondering how we could get as far away from them as possible as swiftly as possible. But, with a remote control in our hands, we know we can instantly escape at the press of a button: even though we may very well despise and loathe the figure on our screen, we control them, not the other way round.

Or maybe it's because they remind us that most of the people we have to deal with in real life are - compared to these embarrassing wretches - rather genuine and jolly nice.

Or perhaps being able to loathe TV personalities helps us put up with the few genuinely annoying people we meet: we've already got the anger out of our system.
Hughie Green

It could explain why we roll about laughing at Steve Coogan's brilliant comic creation, the pathetic, obnoxious TV presenter Alan Partridge.

It might also explain why we put up with Hughie Green – possibly the most horrible TV personality of them all - for decades on end.


  1. Now that you have bravely come out of the terpsichorean closet [who would have thought?]let me emphasize that there is no shame attached. The great American character actor Joe Don Baker played a CIA operative in a very good BBC series called "Edge of Darkness" in the 70s and never missed an episode of "Come Dancing". If someone who can portray Buford Pusser says it is OK then you are on safe ground.

    Your list is excellent. Did you consider Davina McColl or Tony Robinson or Sue [Redacted.Ed.]?

  2. I hop you never saw the remake of Walking Tall starring The Rock - sheesh!

    Possibly my favourite Joe Don Baker role was as the pipe-smoking hit-man, Molly, in Don Siegel's "Charley Varrick". When some prostitutes try to engage him in badinage, he replies: "I didn't travel six hundred miles for the amusement of morons. Is that clear, ladies?" He also utters the memorable line (which I can't complete for hate-crime reasons): "I allow very few men to speak to me in that tone. Few caucasians. And no..." (I'll leave you to fill in the dots.)

    As for the three figures you propose adding to the list (presuming you mean Sue Perkins) - yes, yes and yes again!