Jaci Stephen's Reviews

My lessons in lust; The Mail on Sunday; November 23, 2003; Jaci Stephen

There is something faintly disgusting about old people having sex. We know that they do, but it's not something you need to be reminded of over your cornflakes.

Actually, the only people I want to see having sex on television are young, slim, beautiful people; there are enough gross people around in real life and I don't need television to remind me. I want to see all those fit 18-year-olds that I was never attractive enough to pull when I was that age: boys who, even had I been attractive enough, would never have appealed in the same way as they do to a middleaged woman. Ah, life's lessons can be hard.

Learning life's sexual lessons the hard way is the stuff of Between The Sheets, Kay Mellor's new series about - well, everyone having sex but not enough, or having it but it being of the wrong kind.

Audrey (Liz Smith) is 78 and having plenty with Maurice (Norman Wisdom, perish the thought). They visited sex therapist Alona (Julie Graham) because they were not doing it more than once a day. Audrey likes it in the morning and when the television snooker finishes in the afternoon.

Alona is not doing it much with Paul (Richard Armitage) because he is stressed out about a young woman called Tracy (Vinette Robinson), who is infatuated with him. And Hazel (Brenda Blethyn) and Peter (Alun Armstrong) are not doing it because she has apparently never liked it.

The last time they did was their silver wedding anniversary and 'she threw up afterwards'. This was just one nugget of information Peter told Alona during his first appointment, after Hazel walked out on him.

She was supposed to have gone with him, but turned up later in the day to talk about her husband's affairs. 'I don't like him to touch me,' she said, citing the Virgin Mary as the ideal to which all women aspire.

How Alona ever got to be a therapist is a miracle, because she never shuts up; she also has no sympathy or patience and is incapable of empathising with anyone she doesn't like.

The programme's problem is twofold: first, the dialogue is utterly unconvincing, both in content and the speedy pace at which it moves; and two, Julie Graham, who could make hell freeze over.

Alona also gets very speedy results. No sooner was Hazel told to examine her bits with a hand mirror than she turned into a sex fiend. All thoughts of Our Lady disappeared, and where once the Catholic Herald might have taken pride of place, there was a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

It was all highly implausible, though entertaining enough with some very funny lines. I particularly liked the lap dancer who delivered more than she ought to a client. 'It was my tea break,' she told Peter, who owns the club, adding that she did it for Air Miles, which she needed for her holiday.

But sorry, that thought of Norman Wisdom at it keeps coming back to haunt me.

Sex was also high on the agenda in Reversals, a one-off drama in which Chris Singleton (Marc Warren) and Charlotte Woods (Sarah Parish) swapped gender in order to make specific points about the different ways men and women are treated.

When her doctor boyfriend Chris was promoted to consultant, Charlotte dressed up as a man, stole his identity and moved into his job. There, she discovered a world of egos and sexism (no surprises there); Chris agreed to adopt Charlotte's identity and discovered his sensitive side, becoming more the kind of man Charlotte wanted him to be.

All the standard cliches about men and women were here. Women are kind, sensitive creatures who stand up for what they believe is right; men are weak, compromising and sexually led astray. This could have been made in the Seventies and, while being mildly amusing in parts (the farce elements worked surprisingly well), set back the gender clock by several decades.

It was also utterly unbelievable. As a man, Charlotte did nothing to hide the fact that she had no Adam's apple and was about as masculine as Marilyn Monroe. Parish was more of a man in Cutting It.

There was no sex in Foyle's War, which was a shame, because the thinking woman's crumpet Michael Kitchen was in it. But as Christopher Foyle, he has loftier things on his mind.

The first story in the new series saw him try to unravel the mystery surrounding a body found on a beach. Howard Paige (Henry Goodman) turned out to be the murderer, but was going to get away with it because he had a Home Office minder who outranked Foyle. The detective vowed that one day, somehow, he would get him. 'You're not escaping justice, merely postponing it,' he said.

No one can deliver these resounding moral statements quite like Kitchen, and there are plenty of them in the script, lending it a weight that many detective series lack. There is both an elegance and strength to the character that Kitchen conveys with apparent effortlessness, and he is never less than a joy to watch.

In French Leave, John Burton Race and his family were packing up to leave the country they adopted a year ago, and were planning a farewell party.

First, though, John and his daughters set off to find pink garlic to make a garlic pie. Not the kind of dish to attract the lads at your local disco, I imagine, but simple to make and easily washed down with a bottle of rose.

French Leave has been one of the less enjoyable series of the Englishmen abroad genre, largely because chef John Burton Race is not the kind of man with whom it is easy to empathise. At the start, he was incredibly harsh with his children who, understandably, were desperately homesick; and despite his having a love of cooking, that passion was never really conveyed. His very British habit of raising his voice when talking to foreigners was also desperately irritating.

So, what have they learnt during their time abroad? John has learnt that he loves France, the French, the food, and the natives' love of food. The family as a whole have grown closer and John's wife feels that it has been a period in which they, as a couple, have been rediscovering each other, and that she has fallen in love with John all over again.

When she gets a whiff of that garlic pie on his breath, she might change her mind. Between The Sheets' Hazel should put a slice in Peter's sandwich box. That would keep the lap dancers at bay.