Sunday, January 07, 2007

TV REVIEW: It All Began With Swap Shop

BBC2, 27.12.2006

What all began with Swap Shop? TV? The modern world? The universe? We never found out. But Noel Edmonds, whose brainchild this 130 minutes of surreally bad TV surely was, had no doubt. Even God began with Swap Shop.

The word was made flesh and it had therefore no room for anything else in its worldview, least of all the antiChrist Tiswas. Nor Saturday precursors like HTV's In Orbit, or Zocko. Given that Edmonds' script enabled him to say at least three times the amount anyone else did. Chegwin tried manfully to impose himself, the volume of his delivery like that of a swimmer who'd got into difficulties off Birkenhead and was signalling to a coastguard. At Copacabana Beach.

Cheggers' aggressive shoutiness begged the question; kapo or yellowcoat? You decide (I couldn't). 30 years on, Chegwin - a man who got his kecks off for national TV and for whom, therefore, the hiding of lights under bushels doesn't come naturally - still doesn't seem even to know when to stop. One class difference in Britain is between those who find Chegwin 'a lovely young man' and those who simply want to see him run over by a train. Which then backs over him just to make absolutely sure.

Maggie Philbin was emphatically not , as Edmonds bizarrely suggested, 'everybody's big sister' - I'd hazard that most adoescent boys then thought similarly impure thoughts. No, she was that rather coy and sweet girl with great legs who whose dad drove a Daimler. Her and Chegwin? It was - it was as indecent as Héloise shagging Rigsby. On this occasion, she looked, as previously suggested in various leaks, less than overjoyed to be even sharing the same hemisphere as her former husband.

In the late 80s when it seemed all you needed on British kids' TV was the name Peter, Trevor, Simon or Phillip (Peter Simon, of course, was doubly blessed) came Trevor and Simon, a double-act seemingly formed for the sole purpose of recycling Bob Block's rejected lines, then unknown in comedy circles and since rarely sighted. On the evidence of a 'new' sketch featuring Andi Peters and Emma Forbes, this absence from the top of theatrical or televisual bills is unsurprising. Witnesses may want to swap anything they own - house, children, life savings - for a bottle of brandy and a service revolver if only to forget it. The Chuckle Brothers, where art thou, we hath need of thee etc. Yeah. That bad.

In 1991 students actually went to see Trevor and Simon; but then again, Punt and Dennis did good business then too, and that, tellingly, was also the year that Viz's Student Grant character was born.

At least we were spared BA Robertson, who briefly in 1979-80 became a kind of Swap Shop laureate. A 'humorous' singer-songwriter (actually a poor cross between Lehrer and Cliff Richard) Robertson penned 'I Wanna Be A Winner' for a 'band' called 'Brown Sauce', ostensibly featuring the cast. It was tiresome; possibly the endless plugging of this tat drove the last of SS's viewers to Tiswas.

Astonishingly - and maybe inadvertantly- this bla-flum actually managed to emulate the fixed rictus of the original, with as much spontaneity as messily-divorced parents trying to please the tinies at Christmas. Not even period charm was left, merely period charmlessness. John Craven awkwardly demeaned himself all over again after all that good work on Country File; the pointless affectation Posh Paws, TV's equivalent of an aunt-knitted sweater, was in attendance; even the innuendoes were ersatz and bloodless. The question came back like a siren; How on earth did they ever get away with it?

How did they get away with it in 2006? In the end, it wasn't even worth staying with to see if Mags would actually knee Cheggers in the knackers (she didn't, I'm told).

It didn't all begin with Swap Shop. For anyone watching such a juddering calamity, it all ended -faith in human nature, the will to live, the lot.

Bad. Very, very bad. Tell-it-to-the-grandkids bad. I had gastric flu this Christmas, and It All Began With Swap Shop was infinitely less pleasant.


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