C4: 12noon – 6pm

By Graham Kibble-White

First published April 2000

Powerhouse at midday is a live ITN production anchored by Joanna Foster, the chairwoman of the National Work Forum. “Welcome to Westminster” she says, as though this programme is directly at the heart of the Commons.

Foster appears uncomfortable and never able to hide the artifice of presentation; there is a curious mix in her narrative, too – the even-handed slightly bland mode of address familiar to TV presenting is offset by some quite personal partisan commentary, such as “Father-to-be Tony Blair urges business to adopt more family friendly policies – something for which I’ve long campaigned.” A brief interview with Martin Bell about possible compensation for Japanese prisoners of war reveals Foster unable to keep the mechanics of TV hidden when she puts a question with the tag “Just a very brief answer please, Martin.” She is similarly ill at ease interviewing Anne McElvoy and Annella Johnson in an item about sexual equality in politics. There is a glorious moment at the end of the programme as Foster patently expects a VT insert which fails to arrive, and looks helplessly off camera for a couple of seconds.

Why Weight?, also live, is odious self-improvement nonsense prefixed with a Barry Bethall-esque endorsement – “Hello! Mandy from Suffolk says she’s amazed our food and fitness plan has helped her lose 11 pounds – it’s so simple she didn’t believe it would work! Can you believe that?!” Carole Malone is “the presenter who’s tried every diet in the book” and between herself and fitness expert (a vague, nebulous title) Matt Roberts and chef James Martin we are promised “a recipe for changing the way you think about food and keeping fit and healthy forever!” But it’s tyrannical rubbish, enforcing a sense of guilt upon overweight women who are brought onto the programme and made to account for everything they’ve eaten in the previous week. It’s Diana Dors on TV-am all over again. Why watch?

Lifestyle programming continues with the forgettable Home Sweet Home, making the preceding hour probably the most dismal slot on C4 today. “Our movie matinee” is from 1955, starring Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall and Lillian Gish. The Cobweb is an overblown psychological drama concerned with the choosing of new drapes for a hospital library (honestly!). The dialogue is awfully rank and thus terribly quotable: “Why do flowers have to be for anything? Do they not have colour and form?”

We’re back on a lifestyle tip with Collector’s Lot USA.

Presenter Debbie Thrower presides over this light look at the world of collectors, including a report from David Stafford in Hollywood who is meeting a hoarder of vintage movie and TV memorabilia. Thrower interviews a collector of US number plates followed by an Elvis Presley fan who proudly displays a written reply from Colonel Parker, in response to a letter the enthusiast sent to his home address. Parker says: 1. Do not give out his address to anyone, and 2. Never write to him again. Thrower responds: “So it makes it a more personal letter to you.” “Yes.” says fan. “It’s a more personal letter and not just a standard reply.” Laura Beaumont files quite a dignified little report on a collection of slavery artefacts. But whyCollector’s Lot USA? There seems to be no rationale for creating a programme around American detritus, but here it is. And every weekday too.

Fifteen to One and Countdown give us an hour of quizzes. The former is based around a format apparently devised by a British Telecom engineer and affords host William G Stewart the opportunity for a sort of threatening gravitas. Ironic really, when one remembers that Stewart himself was behind many other quiz shows of a very different kind – witness The Price is Right. As the contestants are whittled away down to the One, Stewart seems to advance a step at each casualty. This is a tense, dignified programme.

Countdown is light by contrast, but perhaps the more successful. Surely everyone harbours some fondness for this silly words and numbers game, presided over by that stoutly middle-class and middle-aged buffer Richard Whiteley. What was contemporary reaction to Countdownback in November ’82 when Whiteley informed us that a countdown to a new channel had ended, but The Countdown had just begun? That such a staid, inconsequential parlour game should launch the new Channel 4 … Today’s guest boffin is Stephen Fry who happily engages in the spirit of things, enduring Whiteley’s puns with a requisite groan and providing some brain-fodder as we head for the commercials. All the elements are present and correct, down to Alan Hawkshaw’s rightly celebrated theme, shuffling and scratching and not altogether dissimilar to his even more celebrated “Chicken Man” (the original theme to Grange Hill). Long may The Countdown continue.

The opening credits for Ricki Lake seem to go to great lengths to portray the erstwhile host as a sort of every (wo)man figure. Here’s Ricki smiling! Here’s Ricki roller-skating! Here’s Ricki picnicking! Bouncing onto the set (“Go Ricki!”) she quickly lays in the plot: “These two women are both into the same man behind bars.” We are introduced, inevitably, to a parade of “ordinary” people, one of whom claims, “I don’t give him no booty!” and is met with rapturous applause and howling from the studio audience. Ricki’s role is to draw out the narrative from the situation, so much so that half way through the proceedings a doorbell sound effect rings out. “I wonder who that can be?” asks Ricki stagily. Of course it’s yet another guest and yet another component to our unfolding story. Ricki does not make any pretence of the application of therapy, wrapping the whole thing up with a curt bon mot – “And those who doubt their men in jail remember it wasn’t their honesty that got them there in the first place.” In the final analyses the best that could be said for Ricki Lake is that it’s less-offensive then its brethren. Go Ricki!

“On Pet Rescue today, Hedgehog Rescue have two new patients and Sherman needs a home”. Tris Payne hosts this tear-jerking twin of Animal Hospital. We follow the Leicester Hedgehog Rescue as they attempt to nurse back to health two injured ‘hogs, Bill and Ben. It’s debatable whether this is in good taste, and whilst we make a diversion to a Donkey Sanctuary the ever present Simon May type incidental music reminds us that Pet Rescue is all about pathos. We return to the hedgehogs to find a twist in the tail. Ben (who was apparently the healthier of the two) dies and Bill lives. Blinking back the tears we cannot help but feel a little manipulated; this item blatantly staged to provoke the maximum amount of emotion in the viewer. And so from death to an RSPCA officer who sings at night in a club act called Xanadu (Peter Kay, are you getting all this down?) Pet Rescue elicits a wash of easy emotion today, but the kettle is on before the credits roll.

  <6am – 12noon