5 August 2010
Chris Tarrant was on The One Show last night, and I've been trying to decide ever since whether I actually like him or not. It's not something I've heavily considered before and I still don't know the answer.
There are things I do like about him. There was that marvellously unconventional way he got into television in the first place - writing those letters to regional ITV outlets declaring himself to be "the face of the 70s" while living in a van on the grounds of a school. For all the blind luck involved, only a significant churl would not say "fair play" at that kind of achievement.
Tiswas was brilliant, of course, and so was OTT. I liked Everybody's Equal, even though Tarrant himself couldn't even remember the name of the programme when he was recently asked about the "other" television programmes he had presented down the years. If you don't recall it, then it was simply a "process of elimination" quiz that involved the whole studio audience, later rehashed as Whittle by Channel 5 and given to Tim Vine.
But then there was Man O Man, in which ridiculously good looking women pushed nervous men into a swimming pool while being encouraged by a baying audience entirely of women. Yes. Let's now have Woman O Woman, where women with looks and personality defects are humiliated by muscular adonis types while a yelling audience entirely of men encourage them. That'll get past the commissioners, won't it?
And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is, of course, a national institution but Tarrant's occasional placing of doubt in a contestant's mind when they know they've already got the correct answer - usually when the question is worth a life-changing £250,000 too - really irks me. I've stopped watching it now.
And his Capital Radio breakfast show is still something that the London media brings up with the blithe assumption that the whole nation must have heard it because it was Tarrant, for pushing 20 years, in London. I heard the show on the internet a couple of times. In a roundabout way, I even wrote gags for it for a while (this is true). But there were far better breakfast shows on local radio around the country at the time - Tarrant as a radio man isn't fit to unravel Daryl Denham's headphone cable - but he was in London. And that matters.
Sorry, I really do sound like a broken record on this, don't I? But Tarrant himself brought the subject of "20 years of breakfast radio" up on The One Show last night while plugging (needlessly) his current period of depping for Steve Wright on Radio 2. I expect The One Show's Carlisle and Inverness and Derby and Exeter viewers were all wondering when they might have heard him on the radio when they rose of a morn. And if you think I protest too much, ask yourself how most of the viewers of that breakfast biscuit advert that Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon are currently appearing in are supposed to know where this alleged breakfast show of theirs is taking place. When Snowdon was on Strictly Come Dancing the other year (and was brilliant), her radio job was even brought up by the judges. My mum asked me the next day where she was on the radio, assuming it was Radio 1 or Radio 2.
Er, anyway. Tarrant last night was plugging two things that probably don't need plugging - Millionaire? and Radio 2 - and, as is always the case for his television guest appearances, was forced into a rather dimwitted spoof of the Millionaire? game which he hammed up to all eternity, to the extent that the presenters - the brilliant Matt Baker and, er, the less brilliant Gabby Logan - had to really hurry him up. And somebody among the question-setters reckoned that "Joan Simm" was in the Carry On films, a spot of slipshod research from someone who clearly wished they were preparing an item about Life On Mars instead. That wasn't Tarrant's fault, of course, but it irritated me further nevertheless.
I broached the subject of Tarrant with the Twitterati last night, and aside from the comments about his voice being identical to that of Kenneth Clarke, the general consensus was that he was bearable. Apparently he can be forgiven anything due to the continuing goodwill for Tiswas and OTT. He is a nice chap in the flesh when you meet him at a GMG radio bunfight but also scared too many people off the Space Mountain at Disneyworld when he wrote that he went upside down on it, even though apparently this ride doesn't go upside down. Oh, and his ex-wife Ingrid was mad to leave him. And he was good when presenting schools stuff on BBC2. This is all crucial information.
Tarrant has become one of the biggest names in television without having a showbiz string to his bow. Most anchorfolk were once singers, comedians, magicians, dancers, actors or just plain old journalists. Tarrant was a homeless teacher who got lucky. I don't begrudge him that at all. Trouble is, I think I begrudge him something and yet I haven't a clue what.