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Tom Daley: nice body, shame about the format

Splash! may be the naffest celeb show yet, but it’s given the nation the green light to perv over an Olympic starlet.

David Bowden

Topics Culture

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TV is currently telling me that there’s a right rumpus going on over teenagers in their swimwear.

There has been much shock regarding ITV’s new series, Splash!, featuring UK diving starlet Tom Daley, albeit generating a reaction which is less spluttering outrage and more general bemusement at a show which pushes the low horizons of formulaic light entertainment to its limits. Even for seasoned viewers, battle-hardened by an endless succession of celebrity-led talent shows, the decision to re-energise the format by shoehorning in the matinee idol appeal of Team GB’s bronzed wet dream is startling in its laziness.

Now that he’s 18 and a medal-winning Olympian, everyone – and I mean everyone – can now enjoy having a properly guilt-free perv at Daley, which makes him the perfect star coach. Everyone – even your nan – will tune in for a sight of Tom’s, er, considerable athletic poise. But, well, the problem is the diving, isn’t it? Yes, yes, I know all the details: diving’s enormous technical difficulties and the high risks involved make it a kind of injury-defying airborne ballet. But I didn’t pay it any attention outside the Olympics before Tom, neither did you, and you certainly never wondered whether Jade from the Sugababes could be taught how to do it, so don’t lie.

No, the true fun of Splash! is not the naffness of its concept, but more the struggle of the makers to see it through, given that they clearly didn’t think much beyond the one-line pitch. The idea is that Our Tom coaches a series of inexperienced celebs how to dive, in the vein of Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing On Ice, etc. Yet on the judges’ front, they can’t really conjure up a Mr Nasty because it’s really difficult to be entertainingly bitchy about a topic no one actually understands. UK diving, in the public mind, is basically Tom Daley and that chap on the BBC who explains it all for us. They’ve had to go for Jo Brand as a personality, and she doesn’t know anything about diving.

Moreover, despite bikini-clad but waterphobic Jade’s best attempts to convince us otherwise, lady-diving sounds a lot ruder than it looks. No sir, make no mistake: diving is straight-up, 100 per cent, balls-out, why-don’t-we-see-that-Mapplethorpe-exhibition homoeroticism. Which is a thrillingly sexually transgressive concept for Saturday evening telly, I grant you, but I can’t help but feel rather on the limited side.

But, of course, it’s not the media durability of Olympian teens that is really troubling the moral guardians of our TV screens. No, the youth of today are kicking up a storm in (and frequently out of) their swimwear when they go abroad on holiday. So serious a problem is this that we were treated to two big documentaries this week: chirpy Stacey Dooley went undercover on BBC3 to give us The Truth About Magaluf while Channel 4 offered us What Happens in Kavos.

There have been some subtle sociological shifts over the years in shows about Brits getting drunk and naked abroad. This format became notorious towards the end of the Nineties with Sky’s iconic Ibiza Uncovered, showing Brits going wild on holiday. In the early days of the internet, such shows were manna for late-night TV executives, who were handed an opportunity to attract an audience of passing post-pub masturbators while only having to offer a cheap and lightweight series of interviews and insight into the lives and loves of those involved. As a result, nobody classed such fare as obscene.

Looking back now, such turn-of-the-millennium era shows were striking for their innocence and almost jubilant celebration of hedonism: covering the raucous holiday fun of all manner of ages and sexualities. Now, however, in this more cynical time – which is TV shorthand for ‘you can see much more exciting stuff uncensored on the internet’ – such shows now have to fulminate as well as titillate. So they now offer us stern warnings over the dangers of all this frolicking: drinking too much, contracting sexually transmitted diseases off dirty strangers, peer pressure, and the impact on the long-suffering locals.

Channel 4 are masters of Sexy Shame programmes and What Happens in Kavos was a typically slick finger-on-the-pulse affair, illustrating its shock horror at the dumb activities of Brits-off-the-leash with a vague Jilted Generation Go Wild thesis about this all being the fault of the recession. BBC3’s offering was more shambolic, with wide-eyed Dooley – who started out as a star of lightweight anti-consumerist romp, Blood, Sweat & T-Shirts – bringing her less-than-hard-hitting journalistic impulses to bear on proceedings. She attempted to lobby a local bar-owner for a form of minimum pricing, who seem distinctly unenthused by the idea. Hearing a horrible tale from local medics about a girl who was bludgeoned and violently raped – an extremely rare occurrence, they added – she wanted to know if drink spiking was involved. At one point, she cried because a group of kids were standing on a hotel balcony where earlier on in the year someone had died.

A decade from now, my fellow scholars in the field of fly-on-the-wall shows about naked and drunk Brits on holiday will no doubt find such programmes contain a wealth of period detail. They will debate the merits of whether the answer to kids going mental when away from the extraordinary regulation of British clubbing culture is to export that regulation abroad. They will marvel at how, in the midst of the brutal Eurozone bailout crisis, national broadcasters wept for Spanish cleaners having to clean up mucky rooms. Moreover, they will find it saddening that nobody seems to want to ‘have it large’ anymore, which at least sounded vaguely aspirational.

Then again, maybe the only ones who’ll remember are the scandalised young teen viewers who will definitely be booking a holiday to Shagaluf when they turn 16.

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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