Magazine article The Spectator

Television Welsh, Single and Sex Mad

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Welsh, Single and Sex Mad

Article excerpt

There's lots of comedy about, but it's not what Americans call 'water-cooler' comedy, shows that get people talking at work the next day. No Hancock or Monty Python or Fast Show or The Office. In the old days, prevideo recorders, pre-repeats on freeview, we had to find excuses to stay at home when we were invited out and didn't want to miss a show. 'Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry, I see my uncle is to be hanged that night.' Nowadays we can't pretend.

On the other hand, there is less to enjoy, less to talk about. Do you know anyone at work who is watching Stella (Sky One, Friday)? Ruth Jones, the ferocious Nessa in Gavin and Stacey, plays a single mother in the Welsh valleys, which sounds depressing but isn't. The town she lives in is like Dylan Thomas's Llareggub, only with sex. Lots of sex. In the most recent episode she has a toy boy, and they are at it every available moment. Her gorgeous daughter is pregnant by, and engaged to, a Punjabi boy who seems to be playing the field, though it turns out that he's only taking dancing lessons, a fact that Stella discovers by wearing a burka and climbing a drainpipe.

It's full of such mild surrealism - the people who live opposite keep a horse in their house. Stella is loved by the school lollipop man, who is being seduced by a plump female Brummie lifestyle guru. The people are real, and there's an amiable sunniness, plus a sense of being set in 2012, which most sitcoms aren't. It's all details: the grotty food in the eight-till-late grocery, the hideous colours of the predatory Stagecoach bus company, the sari shop in Cardiff.

Which cropped up in the last series of Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV, Saturday). This has always been perfect Saturday-night viewing. If you watched the soaps, you'd love the way it took the mickey because you loved those shows. If you never watched the soaps, you'd love the way it took the mickey because you look down on them. Now and again I felt that Hill had lost the will to be brilliant for a whole half-hour (did we need the farting horse? ). Then he'd do a sustained comic turn unlike anything else on television. Someone in EastEnders was going to live in Cardiff, and the other characters behaved as if she was emigrating to the moon. So Hill kept chipping into the tearful histrionic scenes: 'Actually, there are two trains an hour from Cardiff to Paddington. …

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