Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Drink up: Tune in

I’m not sure if it says more about Channel 4 or me, but I seem to be watching a lot of tv  dedicated to crime and social dysfunction at the moment.

Channel 4 passed the Big Brother baton on, and needed something to fill the airwaves. So they’re filling them with a specific side of British life, one where the majority of people are punching someone, vomiting somewhere or flashing something.

And I seem to be watching it all.

Last week, Bouncers was a documentary following the lives of a group of men with the unenviable task of ‘gatekeeper’ to the nightclubs of Newport, South Wales. They scanned, with a look of unexpected contempt, the unsteady gaggles of girls and boys seeking permission to enter these salubrious establishments. It is up to Joe, Jamie and Geraint to decide who is likely to be more trouble than they're worth and who still has the spending and drinking capacity to be let in. Only the trained eye can tell.

“Sometimes I have to bar people”, Joe confided. Really Joe, you surprise me. He goes on to recall the time he had kicked his way into a male loo to find a woman in mid-bowel movement simultaneously performing a sex act on her boyfriend or, at least, the man she happened to be sharing the cubicle with.

"She said to me: 'Am I barred?'" Joe tells us. "I said: 'I've just found you in the men's toilets taking a shit while you suck your bloke off. Of course you're barred.'"
I'm not sure that I needed to hear that anecdote. Still, I felt obliged to share it.
But it wasn’t all crude comments and short skirts, Joe, formerly a high-earning insurance underwriter until the recession hit the town, now has to subsidise his job as a bouncer by  working in a pawnbrokers. "It's a right kick in the teeth, of course," he said. "But there's always someone worse off." And he met most of them – pawning their jewellery by day and drinking the proceeds by night.
So, that’s drunk and abusive people in Newport covered, now to turn over to Coppers for drunk and abusive people in Nottingham. But don’t worry, because here the Coppers in question are the ones with guns. One member of the firearms team, Jim, summed it up, "Shooting guns is great.. It does give you that buzz … It's the Gucci end of the job"
But the thing about Coppers is that is somehow manages to be both funny and tragic. This week, for example, featured Barbara.
Barbara was arrested by armed response unit officers after turning up at someone's house and pointing a gun through the window. Most people, faced with four or five police officers with massive guns, might decide that a certain amount of diplomatic retreat was in order. But not Barbara, who’d had a fair amount to drink and believed that the police had turned up as her back up: "He's robbed my watch!" she screamed repeatedly, a picture of outraged innocence.
Even though she’d been caught pointing a gun through the window, she kept telling us all how she ‘didn’t believe in robbing people and hurting people.’  Until of course she remembered the theft of the watch and added, "but I'll kill that bastard!"
It turned out that the weapon was only a BB gun and Barbara rapidly sobered to be quietly mortified. As she told us of her past however, it was indisputably tragic.
And it’s a clue to the watchability of the show that the documentary makers leave in the jokes and flippant remarks made by coppers and robbers alike, and trust the viewer to understand that laughter does not imply a lack of seriousness.
Because we all know that comedy is what you pull on over tragedy if you want to insulate yourself from its effects.
And finally there’s Party Paradmedics, which I couldn’t make it through. This was a documentary which, for variation's sake, showed us drunk and abusive people in Kavos.
If you’ve never heard of Kavos, well from the 5 minutes of the show that I could stomach, I gleaned that it's a hangout in Corfu for British youngsters who want to screw each other, but not before getting absolutely paralytic. Every day.
I turned off, not because I’d had my documentary fill. No, rather because Party Paramedics was simply tragic, and for the first time in all of it, I felt embarrassed to be British.
Anti-social behaviour may be as old as history, but its brazen parade for the camera is a much more recent phenomenon. It's also one that Channel 4 appears dedicated to documenting.
To ‘enjoy’ my twitter documenting of such classic shows as #coppers and  #bouncers you could follow me @brownrach


  1. I've noticed the party paramedic shows getting more popular, though 'Cops', 'Street Crime UK' and 'Booze Britain' were firm favourites a decade ago in my student house - no change there, other than they are now off the cable channels and on terrestrial. As gross as it is, Im glad they're showing it. Real life is as disgusting as it is beautiful.

  2. Favourite line in Bouncers when a guy turns up in his tracksuit to get into the club and can't understand why he isn't allowed in: "it's a club, not a gym you tit"

  3. So glad you're writing this! A sense a journalistic career ahead - excellent commentary missis!

  4. @Neil, real life is something for sure. I'm not sure from these shows 'beautiful' is the term I'd choose. @Clayton, I also loved the 'it's not a gym' line. Being put down by the bouncer is pretty embarrassing. And @charitygirl - thanks for the encouragement on the tv rundown. Whilst I'd miss annual fund, I'm confident I could get over it pretty quickly.

  5. I wasn't suggesting the ugly was beautiful - quite the opposite, but I do think it's good that it is on television (at the same time, I wouldn't call it 'good television', but that's another story). Besides, bad news sells newspapers and the English love a good moan. It all makes sense.