Daytime TV: The entertainers

Gary Day winces at tales of holidays from hell, tics and swearing and the not-so-talented hopefuls

June 4, 2009

Remember the worst vacation you have ever had? The taxi driver not knowing the way to the airport, missing your flight, having to pay double for another, crammed into a seat next to a born-again Christian, discovering all that's left of your suitcase is the handle, finding your hotel room occupied by a man called Alf, and being mugged by two 10-year-olds, ie your children, all on the first day. Well, that's a pretty similar experience to watching The Great British Foreign Holiday (BBC Four, Tuesday 26 May 9pm).

Mark Benton's commentary flew past like two weeks in Benidorm. Was he aping a Thomson rep or was he so embarrassed by the inane patter of the script that he just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible? Either way, his words passed in a blur, much like an evening in Torremolinos. No cliche about the national character went unuttered. The British "don't like strange places, new experiences, unfamiliar food, foreign languages, too much sun, too much anything". So how did they manage to get on to a sun lounger somewhere in Spain, then? Or even build an empire?

Answer came there none. The words zipped here and there, getting nowhere, like a fly fizzing against a window pane. What saved the programme from sinking like a pedalo weighed down with partygoers were the home-movie clips. The best was of a group of middle-class ladies grimly learning to dance the Kalamatianos. Their faces, as they dipped, stamped and rose, remained as impassive as the Greek statues they had come to study. One who did feel the sun warm his English blood appeared in a clip from Whicker's World. This ageing Lothario recounted, with stoical acceptance, how the woman he had hoped to woo had gone in search of someone less arthritic. "She wants an athlete fellow," he stated, "a chappie who can do gymnastic things, like she can on the floor."

John Davidson is also in search of love but, since he suffers from Tourette's syndrome, finding it is going to be difficult (Tourette's: I Swear I Can't Help It, BBC One, Thursday 28 May 9pm). "She's not going to hang around if I suddenly spit in her drink, is she?" John walks into Asda and shouts "Fuck off". An understandable reaction, in my experience. His friend Dotty helps him shop. Suddenly he strikes her in the face. "Sorry, oh God, I'm so sorry," he says, as she holds her nose. You begin to appreciate the struggle John faces in finding a girlfriend.

Also featured in the programme was 15-year-old Greg Storey. He developed Tourette's when he was seven and was so distressed by the condition that he begged his parents to kill him. He is subject to a thousand tics - or involuntary movements - a day. Greg does not blurt out obscenities, but he does suddenly say "chicken". Is there a class dimension to this disease? The backgrounds of John and Greg would suggest there is. Neither of them exhibited any symptoms when they spoke to the camera, which, unless they were edited out, is a puzzle.

"People think Tourette's is funny," said John. If they do, then they are laughing at themselves. Who doesn't feel the urge to curse and swear and hit out at the world? But most of us are able to repress such impulses. Or are we? Just look at the increase of road rage. Those who suffer from Tourette's do not actually harm others, although that is small consolation to them. See past the spasms and the swearing to the person, that's all we ask, pleaded John on behalf of sufferers. The most memorable comment came from one of Greg's friends: "He lives with it, so why can't I?"

John had a far greater understanding of his limitations than many of the contestants on Britain's Got Talent (ITV One, Thursday 28 May and Friday 29 May 8.30pm). Mistakenly betting all her future on the British love of animals, Jackie Prescott draped herself in sparkles and pretended to dance around her dog, Tippy Toes, who jumped up and down between her legs for three minutes. At 73, Fred Bowers didn't have as much energy as Tippy Toes but he had more than Jackie. He did a breakdance number that consisted of moving his left arm very slowly towards his right knee and then his right arm even more slowly to his left knee. Then he fell over. Was this part of the routine? Fred spun around on his bum a few times before struggling to his feet and executing a few moves that could have been due to dizziness. He was on holiday from himself and he looked as if he was never going home again. Even abroad, there's no escaping the creeping psychosis that we're all entertainers now.

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