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The simple wonder of childbirth

Channel 4’s sweet and soppy One Born Every Minute provides a joyous riposte to the procreation police.

David Bowden

Topics Culture

You don’t know whether to applaud the chutzpah or scold the laziness of the person who dreamt up One Born Every Minute. As Channel 4 continues its scramble to find a replacement for ailing cash-cow Big Brother, the concept does have the faint whiff of desperation. ‘Erm, babies! Everyone loves babies! Let’s show real babies being born!’

You don’t have to subscribe to Christopher Booker’s claim that all of literature can be boiled down to seven basic plots to at least concede that the best ideas are deceptively simple. As every soap-opera hack knows, introducing a pregnancy or birth is a quick method of spicing up any stale storyline, even if, as Five broadcast a live birth in 2006.

Yet it is difficult not to be moved by One Born Every Minute. It is filmed in the maternity unit of a general hospital in Southampton, and has the rather simple premise of following mothers-to-be through their births, interspersed with occasional talking-head interviews with the patients and the maternity staff. A normal hour-long edition largely involves women screaming in agony, women lolling around dosed up on epidurals, and women waiting around anxiously for something to happen. The fathers, or birthing partners, either sit around looking useless, or sometimes say irritating things. As One Born Every Minute Birth Radar, which tracks birth announcements on Twitter, is. Trust me, the thought that every single one of them is a dagger in the heart of Sir David Attenborough and the other patrons of the misanthropic outfit The Optimum Population Trust, might be the most satisfying ever. Hello, Lauren Olivia Nelson of Los Angeles – in your face, Dave. Hello, Maria Lucia Katsaros of Sydney – in your face, Dave. Hello, Pooja of New Delhi…I could go on. I’m really very tempted to.

The monumental cheeriness of Channel 4’s Monday night schedule was brought into sharp relief by the miserable offerings from BBC3. There, viewers can currently enjoy a season of programmes that may or may not be called Sex is Dirty and Will Kill You Unless You Do Precisely As We Say. This week, actress Jaime Winstone was investigating the question Is Oral Sex Safe? (real title) in what was apparently ‘essentially a science programme’. Is that what they’re calling crass sex education shows these days? Anyway, half an hour into the programme it hadn’t got very far towards answering the question of the title, although we did find out that Jaime was very upset that a friend of hers died of a cancer not caused by oral sex. She then read out a poem tattooed on a cancer survivor’s back and cried a lot while exclaiming that she didn’t know what kind of cancer you’d get from oral sex. After this pile of essence, I didn’t really want to stick around for the science. I think the answer to the Jaime’s question, to paraphrase Woody Allen, is ‘not if you’re doing it right’.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Hello, Tristan Evans of Vancouver – in your face, Dave. Hello, Rory Samuel James Walter of Marlborough, NZ…

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

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