Magazine article The Spectator

A Construct, of Course

Magazine article The Spectator

A Construct, of Course

Article excerpt

Television

A construct, of course

Can I tell you about my latest adventures? Oh, can I? Can I? OK, well I've been making a TV documentary for Channel 4 and, en route, I met the greatest concentration of Spectator readers I've ever encountered. Why am I so totally unsurprised to discover that yer typical Speeds reader spends his February in St Moritz riding the Cresta Run, hunts, prefers smoking and drinking to eating and wears plus fours and a 'Bollocks To Blair' badge?

It's a simultaneously delightful and disturbing thing, meeting your fan base. On the one hand, you get an idea what it is they like about you: in my case, the sound right-wingness and general don't-give-a-tossness. On the other, you get a better idea of why it is that some of them think you're a total arse. Apparently, I have readers - the Pethericks of St Austell, for example - who scream at their Spectator, Oh please, no more of that f____ Delingpole.' My suspicion is that it's a class thing. If there's one thing the upper class loathes, it's the sort of morbid introspection in which I specialise. They would rather live the unexamined life. I would, too, if I'm honest, but unfortunately I've no choice.

Anyway, one thing I've learnt making this TV documentary is how fearfully contrived the whole process is. As a rule of thumb, 99 in a 100 of the supposedly natural scenes you see on TV have been painstakingly set up or faked. When you put this accusation to TV people, they're shocked that you should be shocked. 'But of course it's a construct,' they say. 'Everyone knows it is.'

I'm not sure everyone does. For example, when viewers see the presenter driving his car alone, I don't think it occurs to them that squashed out of vision in the back seat are a soundman and a cameraman and quite possibly the director, too. And when the presenter delivers an impromptu aside to the camera, I doubt many viewers realise that it took him three days to hone it and 15 takes to get it sounding that relaxed.

Once you've realised this, it does change the way you watch TV. I noticed this very much with Jamie's School Dinners (Channel 4, Wednesday). Whereas before I would have fallen completely for the conceit - Jamie Oliver takes time off filming Sainsbury's ads in order radically to overhaul the abysmal catering at a south London state school - this time I understood it as an exercise in narrative fiction.

Take, for example, the scene where Jamie is shot from above being mock-angrily chased down the school corridors by the characterful Irish dinner lady: that would have been scripted. …

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