Digital television is great. The set-box box has brought us some fabulous entertainment. During the past month I have seen Peter Watkin’s Culloden on BBC4. Last year I saw Death on the Staircase, a wonderful documentary series on the US justice system. There have been Dennis Potter; Alan Plater; and Jack Rosenthal seasons. BBC4 – in particular – has been everything that BBC2 used to be. Other digital channels are less eclectic but successful enough. ITV3 knows its demographic, broadcasting a diet of top ITV drama series (Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes; Rumpole; Cracker; Michael Gambon excellent as ever as Maigret &c). But then there are the channels where you’re not sure of the purpose. Discovery Real Time seems to broadcast a never-ending diet of programmes about fishing (with surprisingly little Bob Nudd), for example. And ITV2?
Well, ITV2 seems unsure of itself. It has repeated some US sitcoms (Spin City, Third rock from the sun). It broadcasts American Idol. It has hosted the spin-off programmes from Love Island; I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here; Celebrity Wrestling; Celebrity Hell’s Kitchen; Celebrity on the rack; and Celebity Cash Cab. It broadcasts interminable soap omnibuses from Emmerdale (the first eight day a week soap) and Coronation Street. But occasionally, the monotony of ITV2 broadcasting is broken.
Last year I witnessed one such programme. I have yet to recover. ITV2 broadcast a programme from Fox TV (itself a worrying sign) called Man Vs Beast.
There was a Tug of War contest between a Sumo wrestler and an orangutan (Dr Zaius). Each sat on either side of a pit, the loser being pulled into the pit. After taking little interest for the opening minutes the orangutan gave a sharp pull of the rope and the sumo wrestler belly flopped into the pit. Beast 1 Man 0. Action replays were then broadcast.
There was a 100 metres race between a giraffe and the Olympic 200 m champion Shaun Crawfurd (before the Olympics). This was introduced by Carl Lewis, multiple Olympic and World Athletics gold medallist, and a man not banned during his competitve athletics career. For reasons that escaped me the giraffe was replaced by a zebra and Crawfurd was asked for an incisive pre-race comment. The race was then run the zebra winning easily. Crawfurd objected, suggesting that the Zebra had a false start. This was confirmed by an action replay. The viewer at home nods knowingly. How could the zebra have thought he would get away with it? It was blatant. The race was run again. Knowing that another false start would mean automatic disqualification the start was tense but with a point to prove on behalf of the animal kingdom, once again the zebra pulled away winning easily. Beast 2 Man 0. Carl Lewis then offered analysis of the performance of the zebra.
There followed an assault course of the type that used to be found on TV’s toughest quiz, The Krypton Factor. This was the scene for a race between a US Marine and a chimpanzee. This chimp is the finest to appear on television since Zippy the chimp (aka Private Harry Speakup) in the Bilko classic The Court Martial. After losing interest over the arm swing the chimp dawdled and humanity triumphed. Beast 2 Man 1. Thank heavens for the US military, staunch defenders of the interests of human kind. During a post-race interview with the marine (who is slightly out of breath) the chimp crosses the line beating his chest, then stands and poses. The marine is slighted by this and makes various derogatory remarks about the chimp. We cut hastily to a break before the chimp is taken out.
The final contest – and humanity’s last opportunity to draw level with the beasts – is an aeroplane pulling contest between an elephant and 44 dwarves. Obviously filmed during the summer (in the panto close season) the dwarves are a finely honed well-drilled unit. The elephant is relying on brute force. The winner is the first to pull the aeroplane (a “jumbo” jet, ho ho!) for a fixed distance. After an excellent start the dwarves run level with the elephant but the elephant pulls away to cross the line with some dwarf lengths to spare. Beast 3 Man 1. It has been conclusively proven that the beast is superior to man.
As a result the Statute of Liberty is to be covered in sand and Chief Scientist Dr Zaius, the winning orangutan begins to orchestrate his plans to take over the earth.
As Charlton Heston said, “Get your stinking paws off me you damned filthy ape.” and “Damn you. Damn you all to hell.”
Or as a slightly higher authority than Heston had it,
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over any living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis I, 27 – 9)
And God did this in order that man could, many thousands of years later, use the animals for the purposes of “entertainment” on Fox and ITV2. Praise be and let’s nominate the orangutan for sports personality of the year.