Jaci Stephen's Reviews

A voice that rises above the sleaze; The Mail on Sunday; November 3, 2002; Jaci Stephen

The Real Tom Jones C4, Monday ***

The Osbournes C4, Friday ****

Comedy Lab C4, Thursday *

The Safe House ITV1, Monday **

Foyle's War ITV1, Sunday *****

This Morning ITV1, Monday to Friday *****

Growing up in Wales during the Sixties and early Seventies, there were three highlights to every week. The visit by the 'pop man' (one bottle of dandelion and burdock, one orangeade), chips from a bag on Friday nights and This Is Tom Jones on the telly. I suppose we all needed to get out more.

Tom was the most famous man ever to have come out of Wales. He still is.

Bigger than Lloyd George, George Thomas and Max Boyce, he was living proof that you could leave an existence of relative poverty to become an international superstar.

Just as young Welsh girls today now harbour thoughts that they too could do a Zeta-Jones and marry a rich Hollywood star, so those of us growing up during the Tom years dreamt of fame and fortune.

I interviewed Tom last week and could not stop shaking. There aren't many people who do that to me. David Essex gave me palpitations, and I think if I were ever to meet Elton John, the paramedics would have to be on standby. Tom is a great, great star and, we were informed during The Real Tom Jones, a great star with an enormous crotch.

Now, I never paid much attention to Tom's crotch when I was a girl. All that hip wiggling left me cold, and there was no way I ever felt tempted to chuck my navy blue school regulation knickers at him as female members of his audiences were wont to do with their underwear. I was a late starter and just thought he had a terrific voice.

All idols, however, have feet of clay, and The Real Tom Jones revelled in revealing Tom's 'dark' side: basically, a desire to bed everything that came within knicker-throwing range. He had to, said his old friend Bryn 'the Fish' Phillips. 'If 'e'd said no, theyda thought 'e was a poof.' Fair point.

When Tom ended an affair with Miss World 1973, she tried to take her own life. He has an illegitimate son whom he has never acknowledged. Information about countless other affairs made you wonder how he ever managed to keep his trousers on long enough to get through a show. And yet, said actress Mamie van Doren, he was 'not very good in bed'.

Members of his old band, The Squires, resent the fact that he left them behind, but apart from this and the apparent sex addiction (both old stories anyway), there wasn't much negativity.

The 'real' Tom Jones is still a brilliant entertainer with a breathtakingly fine voice. But come on, Tom, it's time to say hello to your son. If only to measure up the size of his crotch.

Ozzy Osbourne is everything that Tom Jones is not, and The Osbournes is as far removed from the life of a small mining community in Wales as it is possible to get. For that we must all be grateful.

I have to confess to never having heard of Ozzy, much less listened to the 'music' (I use the word loosely) of Black Sabbath, in which he was lead 'singer' (I use that word even more loosely). Appearing on The Tonight Show, Ozzy made a dreadful racket while shaking his head around a great deal.

The series, which was first shown on MTV, is a fly-on-the-wall 'reality sitcom' about life in the Osbourne household. There's Ozzy, his wife Sharon - who seems quite sane - their two ghastly children Kelly and Jack, and cats and dogs who fight just as much as everyone else.

The language is dreadful, the house like The Muppet Show on speed, but there is something incredibly endearing about Ozzy, which makes the show compulsive viewing. 'I love you all,' he said to Jack. 'I love you more than life itself. But you're all f****** mad.' Barking.

If life in the Osbourne household is a comedy-free zone, Comedy Lab is a comedic wasteland. I just didn't get it. Apart from one sketch in which men in suits pondered where to put the next Pret a Manger, I just didn't understand the points of reference.

I'm sure that lovers of The League Of Gentlemen were falling off their chairs, but then I don't get that either. Actually, I recognised something in the final credits - a thank you to the clothes shop Cyberdog. I used to live above this ghastly place and they drove me out with the hideously loud music they played from morning till night. Anyone saying thank you to them is never going to get my vote.

I wrote some time ago questioning why anyone would be put in a safe house in TV drama, when the safe house always turns out to be anything but.

So you can imagine how safe The Safe House was going to be. Sure enough, when trauma psychologist Sam Graham (Geraldine Somerville) took in Finn (Kelly Reilly) and said 'You are safe. This is a safe house', you could almost hear the screams of 'Aghhhh no! Anything but the non-safe safe house!'

When the cello then struck up its chords, you knew there was going to be trouble.

This incredibly slow two hours featured Somerville wearing just one expression and a very silly woollen hat. Apart from a couple of brief glimpses of the very lovely and talented Jane Robbins (why isn't she on our screens more?), this was tosh from beginning to end.

'Primarily, what I do is manage depression and anxiety,' Sam had told us at the beginning. She would have been a lot busier after this.

Thank goodness in a dire week for the genius of Michael Kitchen in Foyle's War. This is an actor who can do no wrong; he does not blink without there being a reason for it, and his role as wartime Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle makes the most of his extraordinary talents.

If Michael Kitchen played a corpse, you would still watch him more than anyone else.

When I reviewed Phillip Schofield 15 years ago, I said that he would be a star, and the way he has stepped into This Morning at short notice is admirable. In the old days, he shared a sofa with Gordon the Gopher, a squeaky bit of yellow fluff in red trainers, so Fern Britton must be something of a blessing.

The sensitivity with which he treats children on the show - in particular, on Wednesday, a young lad who failed to 'Beat the Chef' - is very touching.

My own item about Tom went out on Monday, and, apart from there being too much Tom and not enough me, looked very good. However, I must not display any bias towards programmes in which I appear. Oh, what the heck. Five stars it is.

Tom Jones's new album, Mr Jones, is reviewed on Page 75