Jolly Japes with the Office Apes

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Office Monkey

ITV2

WE all need our heroes, and mine is the inventor of the computer. Some point to Konrad Zuse and his Boolean calculator of 1938 (haven't they been told it's rude to point?), but I regard its true creator as Charles Babbage, who gets my vote as Britain's most eminent Victorian, not only for his computing skills, but also because he campaigned tirelessly to make busking a hanging offence.

Quite right, too, because few street sounds are more loathsome than a one-man band singing Rosie while strumming three chords on a guitar and arrhythmically banging the bass drum strapped to his back, or a dodgy saxophonist whose instrument differs from a lawnmower in only one respect (lawnmowers can be tuned).

As for mime artists who expect payment and applause for walking into invisible hurricanes or being trapped in invisible lifts, I like to disrupt their routines by placing a ghetto blaster on the pavement, inserting a blank tape, then switching it on with the volume turned up to maximum. It drives them crazy.

A one-man band strummed and banged his tuneless way through My Old Man's a Dustman on last night's Office Monkey, "the programme that laughs in the face of office boredom".

But the programme was laughing alone because I've seldom seen a less amusing premise for a series than this "concealed camera comedy show set in everyday offices", nor a less amusing set of "comical pranks and crazy stunts" than the tedious japes perpetrated by the contestants (or "monkeys") on their unwitting colleagues.

Any practical joke show that has you longing for the return of Jeremy Beadle has signally failed in its purpose, and as for Steve McKenna's irritatingly jovial voiceover (Paul Coia without personality, if you can imagine such a thing), his claims that we were witnessing "side-splitting stunts and hilarious pranks" were sadly undermined by the bleak evidence of our own eyes. Put it this way. If you ate a plateful of alphabetti spaghetti and then threw it up on to the Axminster, you'd still end up with a more inspired and inspiring script than what I heard last night.

To be fair, life in the average office is so mind-numbingly dull that almost any interruption would probably be a welcome distraction from the monotony of daily existence. But to be fairer, practical jokes without a satirical purpose are irksome to their victims and meaningless to viewers, albeit that the monkeys are secretly competing to win a luxury trip to South America.

Last night's instructions to "give the office a musical performance" or "do a dance routine" told us nothing about the people we were watching, except that the perpetrators were shameless exhibitionists, and that the unsuspecting staff rapidly concluded that madness must have set in. …