TV review: The Truth about Child Brides

Doing dishes, scrubbing floors and 'not screaming' are the lessons of the child bride, says Gary Day

October 13, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

A smiling Nel Hedayat wanted to find out "what it was really like to be a child bride" (The Truth about Child Brides, BBC Three, Monday 3 October, 9pm). But at the age of 22, that was just not possible. So, instead, she had to examine the phenomenon from the outside. She was driven around India in an expensive, air-conditioned car. Cows, dust and clouds sped past. The image of a family huddled outside their home, which seemed no bigger than a sentry box, vanished almost as soon as it appeared.

Nel alighted at a village in Rajasthan where a 12-year-old boy was marrying a six-year-old girl. We saw the girl being made ready in a hut. Dressing up is one of the things little girls love to do. But this one didn't look happy. You can't blame her. She will not learn to read and write. She will wash dishes, she will scrub the floor, she will clean the clothes and she will cook for her husband, who will probably beat her. One 14-year-old recalled what her mother-in-law said: "When he touches you, let him - and don't scream."

At another nuptial, this time at a village in Bangladesh, a chorus of relatives urged a 13-year-old girl to say that she accepted this man as her husband. "Hurry up, hurry up," they shouted. "It's getting dark." It certainly was. We could barely see Nel's smile. By the end, it had disappeared altogether.

Harris Fishman's Cat Dancers was an extraordinary film (More4, Tuesday 4 October, 11.20pm). Ron and Joy Holiday met as children and began their career as a dance act. Ron, who in his youth posed nude for muscle magazines, would twirl Joy like a baton. There must have been times, when she was spinning faster than the chamber of Annie Oakley's gun, that Joy regretted her decision not to become a nun. Then Ron had a dream. He saw Joy as a cat. It was God's way of telling them to work with animals.

Old footage showed the pair in what looked like bondage gear strutting in front of several cages containing some of nature's fiercest predators, all hungrily eyeing the practically bared buttocks of their captors. Chuck Lizza, their young assistant, was also very tempted by the sight and the three later formed a happy mènage à trois. "There was never a problem if one of us wanted our own space," said Ron.

But it was not to last. Jupiter, a white tiger, tore out Chuck's throat when he accidentally stumbled on him. Joy was distraught. She lay in bed not bothering to eat, wash or even change her pyjamas. She wanted to die. Ron managed to bring her back from the brink by saying that "their babies", as the couple referred to their clowder of cats, missed her. Jupiter showed his joy at her return by hurling her six feet into the air with his teeth. "There was blood all over my face," said Ron. "For weeks, everything was red." Somehow, all this lacked the impact it should have had. Fussing over which wig to wear before talking about losing the two people you loved the most in the world didn't help. Neither did hanging upside down from an exercise bar. Whatever Ron intended by his impersonation of a bat, the viewer was more likely to be impressed by the adhesive quality of his toupee than the depth of his grief. He just couldn't resist being a showman when sincerity was all that was required.

But Ron was the very picture of authenticity compared with the contestants on Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One, Saturday 8 October, 6.05pm). The most genuine person in this collection of cake figurines is Rory Bremner, and he's an impressionist. Most of the men had polished their chests so that their female partners could watch themselves being spun round the floor. Pasha Kovalev looked as if he was using Chelsee Healey, an actress from Waterloo Road, to clean it. Ola Jordan had the task of teaching Robbie Savage, at one time labelled the dirtiest player in the Premier League, the foxtrot. Once he had grasped that this did not involve scything her legs from under her, he then had to master the art of moving without tripping over his hair. Despite having to dance to Ain't That a Kick in the Head?, a song that had the obvious potential of encouraging Robbie to revert to type, Ola took the floor without shin pads. The audience applauded wildly - but then they seemed to clap anything that moved, including Bruce Forsyth. Edwina Curry is reinventing herself as a cougar. She stroked the arm of an increasingly alarmed Vincent Simone. At that point I switched off and read some Sylvia Plath to cheer myself up.

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