Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pedal faster kid, or we'll kill Petra again

I’VE NEVER really trusted Blue Peter since they sneakily replaced the original Petra when the first puppy died two weeks after being introduced on the show back in 1962. They might have thought they’d fooled us but it takes a lot to scam a street-wise eight-year-old who’s already running his own dinner ticket racket.

This was patently a different Petra, and no amount of Advent crowns made out of coat-hangers was going to make up for that. Trust me – not even Alistair Campbell could have “spun” that one.

Rumour has it that the notorious raid on the garden by Les Ferdinand and his gang in 1984 was in direct reprisal for this nationwide deceit. For all Percy Thrower’s whining about “disgraceful vandalism”, some of us thought that they deserved everything they got. As to who planted the cocaine on Richard Bacon, or got Yvette Fielding pregnant, we’ll say no more.

So it was no great surprise when Blue Peter’s production team were caught red-handed still cheating viewers fully 44 years later. Rigging a kiddies’ competition because the phone lines had gone down might seem like small beer, but what about the bond of trust between younger viewers and their TV providers?

As Homer Simpson says: “Ah, television – teacher, mother, secret lover”. Our children now spend more time with their TV programmes than they do with their parents. It’s therefore down to the programme-makers to provide the moral framework that modern parents either can’t or can’t be arsed to. And it’s a weighty responsibility.

And it doesn’t always work. Postman Pat is scrupulously honest, never once giving the impression that he rifles through Mrs Goggins’ knicker drawer at the earliest opportunity. No-one in Greendale ever gets a birthday card with the fiver already removed; credit cards and CDs turn up at their destinations with monotonous regularity. If only we could say that of our real-life postmen – when they’re not on strike, that is.

Yet one thing bothers me about the £50,000 fine levied by Ofcom on the BBC for their Blue Peter deception. Who pays? Well it’s not the programme makers, all of whom seem to have survived unscathed and unsacked. No, it’s you and me, the licence fee-payers.

So here we are, having been lied to by one of our national institutions, and now we’re being fined for it? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. That’s 370 hard-earned £135s down the pan, even less money for the BBC to spend on programming, and even more repeats of Last of the Summer Wine. And it’s not even our fault.

And what happens to the money anyway? Do the good old boys at Ofcom stick it behind the bar for their Friday evening piss-up? Perhaps they’ve blown it all on voting for the odious Charlie to get voted out of Big Brother. (Did you notice how they rigged the non-eviction again this week?) Either way, I don’t know. But I think we should be told.

when our kids are watching the telly, they can now keep fit as well. Yes folks, thanks to the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle, you can park your obese offspring on their very own exercise bike in front of the television and they can watch a computer-generated image of a moving road while pedalling away those Pot Noodles.

This also has the added benefit of keeping them safe from the dodgy blokes with the squints and puppies who allegedly cruise every street. In fact, once your kids have been excluded from school for smoking crack, they need never leave the house again. They can even sign on by phone these days.

I can’t help feeling that the manufacturers have missed a trick here. While your pre-teen porker is pedalling away, why not link them to an electricity generator? In fact, regulate the telly so that it only comes on when they’re producing a surplus of power. Faster, faster, it’s Hollyoaks. It’s a brilliant application of the carrot-and-stick theory and a damn sight more effective than David Cameron’s wind turbine.

MIND YOU, I can’t see them pedalling too hard if all they can see is Alistair Campbell’s smug mug, because that’s all that’s been on the box for the past week. How has this man managed to blag so much free publicity for his book from the very corporation that he tried to bring down? It beggars belief. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been in Les Ferdinand’s garden-wrecking gang.)

He cost a decent BBC reporter his job, forced out Greg Dyke, the director general, and bullied the chairman, Gavyn Davies, into resigning, yet you can’t switch on a single radio or TV channel without coming across Mr Blah’s Lie-Master General. And … and, we even paid him, through that bit of the licence fee that Ofcom hasn’t confiscated, to read the damn book out in three one-hour specials. Why? It isn’t even very good. (He’s said to have pocketed £50,000 for his part in the programmes, on top of a £1million advance from his publishers. You may be familiar with that figure. It’s another 370 hard-earned £135s.)

One newspaper columnist put his finger on it rather well. The BBC, he argued, is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages grow to admire those who’ve bullied and mistreated them. That can be the only sensible explanation for this ludicrous, incestuous circus.

THE GOVERNMENT’S Department of Guesswork, Mr Keith Waterhouse’s estimable invention, has been busy this week aiding and abetting some nutty researchers at Oxford and Nottingham Universities who argue that imposing VAT on “fatty” foods could “prevent more than 3,000 deaths a year in the UK”.

Now how do they work that out then? They don’t even know which foods are to be declared “fatty”; they don’t know how people will react to a 17.5 per cent price increase; and they don’t know if the supermarkets and the fast food providers will subvert their Nanny State nonsense by cutting prices. So how can they possibly calculate how many people will avoid heart disease? It’s utter rubbish.

And why would it work anyway? I eat a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese and a medium fries once a month. It’s a treat, something I look forward to – a bit like a rock of crack. I haven’t the faintest idea how much it costs and, frankly, I don’t really care.

What I do know though is that you can buy a burger for 99p, and if that price staggers up to £1.17, it isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to those who choose to buy it. Stick the same increase on a jar of caviar of half a pound of foie gras and you’re talking serious money. Put the price of a tin of London Grill up by tuppence and no-one blinks. (Do they still do London Grill? Beans, sausage, bacon and kidney? Made by HP? Lovely stuff.)

Almost by its very nature, “bad” food is cheap food, produced for the purpose of feeding the poor masses. Should we just put prices up until they starve? Or should we just let them eat cake?

Oh, hang on, that won’t work, will it …


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