Brian Donaldson finds that natural beauty and unnatural acts are everywhere you look on the box
It’s difficult not to come round to the conclusion that the BBC is utterly obsessed with teenage pregnancy. In recent times, we’ve had Baby Borrowers, Britain’s Youngest Grannies and Adolescent Brunette Mothers on Crack with Guns. OK, maybe one of those is made up, but you could flick through the current TV schedules and barely blink an eye should that title ever appear. Now they’re at it again with Teen Mum High (BBC2, Mon 12 May, 9pm •••), a show which is part of their Bare Facts season about love, relationships and rutting among the young folks of the nation.
The programme features one of Britain’s specialist schools which girls who have become pregnant go to in order to keep up their education and find out all about the birds and the bees, which seems a little like bolting the stable door when the horse that got you up the duff is now out in the fields chewing on oats.
The girls are uniformly chavvy and all have mothers who themselves first gave birth far too early, but after the hour is through you should have melted at the sight of another strain on the state being pushed into the world. Still, if the BBC aren’t showing us bairns with bumps, then chances are you’re watching a ravishing natural documentary. Wild China (BBC2, Sun 11 May, 8.05pm •••) is the latest in that line and is as familiar as it is gorgeous. Bernard Hill narrates this one in which crazy monkeys invade people’s pools, old people break their backs in Technicolor paddy fields and no one mentions the Olympics. While there must be a dearth of acting jobs on Bernard’s horizon, Melvyn Bragg has been keeping himself busy writing the odd book or two and on current evidence it seems he really should be giving up on his night job as his increasingly tired arts programme limps on through series after series. South Bank Show: Damned United (STV, Sun 11 May, 10.50pm ••) is the perfect example of a good subject being regrettably wasted.
Yorkshire lad David Peace is one of the rising stars of the British literary game having produced psychological fictions about the landmark people and events which occured around his area while he grew up: his Red Riding Quartet focussed on the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, GB84 dragged us back to the miners strike and with Damned United, he reflects on the 44 days in which mouthy old Brian Clough was in charge of Leeds United. It’s a visceral and exciting book but Mel and co have made it out to be as gripping as a UEFA Cup tie at Ibrox.
Part one features Peace being given a tiny window of opportunity to read passages and explain his motivation while the camera lunges back and forth from Mel’s massive grin to images of Clough chatting to Parky, back to Mel, back over to Cloughy strutting about. The remainder of the show wheels out a succession of critics who by and large hate the book (Eamon Dunphy, Alan Plater, Sir Parkinson of Chat himself) giving Peace no chance to actually respond to the criticisms. A wasted opportunity.
Jon Ronson is a documentary maker who likes to take his chances and with Reverend Death (Channel 4, Mon 19 May, 10pm ••••) he’s returned to the same kind of territory he travelled to with Kidneys for Jesus as some religious people conduct themselves in a way that might be considered distinctly unreligious. Over the course of six years, Ronson has followed the story of George Exoo, a Unitarian minister who assisted the suicides of countless lost souls across America, even stretching his Grim Reaper-like influence into Ireland. What made him controversial (if you don’t think the subject is already teetering on the dubious) is that terminally ill individuals are not the people he’s seeing off into the next life, but a bunch of folks who are merely kind of miserable.
Even those in general support of his actions question the methods without coming right out and confronting him about his motivations, though one British psychologist believes he has become hooked on the moment of someone’s death and takes an almost orgasmic pleasure when chatting to a person on the phone as they swallow the hemlock. Never seeking to overly condemn, Ronson finds a soft spot for the Rev but is stricken with exasperation at the cash-driven goals of his new assistant as she takes advantage of Exoo’s temporary incarceration to trade in her own suicide game.