TV UK, 17 August

'The show played to an audience of four, two of whom seemed to be the star's parents. Still, that's what Edinburgh is all about.'

Dolan Cummings

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I, Compere is a show about an aspiring TV personality stuck in a rut at a crappy holiday camp. He sees his chance when the BBC arranges to make a docusoap about the camp, with him as one of the featured characters. He knows just how to play it: super-confident onstage, but wracked with self-doubt and alcoholism off it. It’s only a matter of time before he will be invited on to ITV’s This Morning (1).

Inevitably, things don’t go to plan. And the pathos is heightened by the fact that I, Compere isn’t a TV show but a one-man play at the Edinburgh Fringe. When I saw it, the show played to an audience of four, two of whom appeared to be the star’s parents. Still, that’s what Edinburgh is all about – and if it gave the performance an edge, so much the better.

David Benson is another talent to have been neglected by TV. Two hit shows at Edinburgh in recent years failed to catapult Benson to the heights of stardom, and he was forced to take an office job in London. This year he is back with To Be Frank, a show vaguely about Frankie Howerd, but mainly about showbiz itself.

Benson reflects on the iniquities of the business, and the unjust success of Little Graham (Norton). In an extended fantasy about getting the gig as token gay at the Holocaust Remembrance Service, Benson brilliantly sends up the sinister cynicism of celebrities. Later he fantasises about murdering celebs in various ways, to the delight of the audience. (The dispatch of Carol Vorderman raised a special cheer.)

Age of Consent hit the headlines when it was accused of cashing in tastelessly on the murder of James Bulger, because it features a sometimes funny monologue by a teenager nearing the end of his prison sentence for the murder of a child. In fact, the monologue is a polemic against the idea of evil, and is not remotely sensationalist.

The play’s other monologue is given by a young single mother who is desperate to get her daughter into show business. It would be easy to see this piece as an indictment of a selfish bully with no regard for her daughter’s welfare, but actually it is more subtle than that. A 19-year-old is lumbered with a kid after ‘panda sex’ (‘A panda eats shoots and leaves. Geddit?’), and then struggles to make sense of her own life and her daughter’s as best she can.

Little Racquel doesn’t make it into Les Mis, but soon carves out a career in TV adverts, thanks to a Humbert-like benefactor who personifies everything that is dodgy about showbiz. The mother’s satisfaction is tempered by a sense of loss and anxiety about what will become of her daughter. Little Graham’s mum must have felt the same way.

I’m off to see something called Broads with Swords now. Remember to keep taping The Sopranos for me.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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spiked-issue: TV

(1) See TV UK, 27 July, by Dolan Cummings

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