Women in Television 2: Vanity, Thy Name Is Screen Test
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
By the time you read this, it will have started. Big Brother, I mean, not the summer. My heart sinks like a stone in a cold canal at the thought. In the early days, I admit I was hooked. But now we are beginning series SIX, for goodness sake, and all I can think is: if only the rain would keep off, I could lock the television in my leaky shed, bury the key under a bramble bush, and avoid the tiresome, squalid, silted-up mess altogether.
Of course, even if I were to do that, I would not be safe. Worse even than the show itself is its long, slow leach into everything else. Its tentacles are every-where. In a recent documentary about Abi Titmuss, the journalist Rod Liddle suggested that Titmuss is as important a weathervane of sexual mores as Alfred Kinsey ever was. This is rubbish, naturally, but typical of the way many of our commentators look for significance in the shouty unpleasantness that is reality TV.
At bottom, when you shove to one side all the clever talk about the unnatural value our society places on celebrity, television is about vanity, isn't it? The money is nice, but it's a person's head that is turned, not their bank balance. I know this because, this month, in the face of everything that I believe and everything I know about myself, I took--oh, God--a screen test. Nothing will come of it. For one thing, I look not unlike a frog in still photographs, so the Lord alone knows how I might appear in motion--like a frog on speed, probably. For another, I appeared on TV once before, and it was a disaster of buttock-clenching proportions.
I was asked, by a friend, to appear in a BBC4 show called the Battle of the Books. The conceit was a courtroom-type situation, in which one book would be pitched against another. …