Jenny Eclair: People underestimate the power of daytime TV

"The other week, I was mobbed at a motorway service station by a coach party of Draw It! devotees. Just for a second, I knew how it felt to be Justin Bieber!"

All hail the unsung heroes of the telly schedules! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the daytime Cinderella shows that work the afternoon shift. Day in, day out, they beaver away, keeping things ticking over during the post-lunch/pre-teatime slot, distracting students and entertaining old folk, cheerfully flogging antiques, dishing up ancient yet classic Come Dine with Me dishes and tempting retirees to the country.


Whenever I go and visit my nearly nonagenarian dad in his nursing home, usually between the hours of 3pm and 5pm, the TV, complete with subtitles, is on in the corner. His tastes range from snooker and horse racing to Flog It. My mother, on the other hand, likes her daily visits to coincide with Escape to the Country, possibly because she finds presenter Alistair Appleton a “bit of a dish”. I tell you, when I broke the news that Alistair is openly, happily gay, she looked crushed; my mother’s Gaydar is rubbish.

The great thing about afternoon telly is that it’s sociable; you can chat and view, nothing is too complicated, you don’t have to follow a plot, dozing off and coming round five minutes later isn’t a big deal, it invites conversation.

“Ooh,” we chorus when some nice Clarice Cliff vases come up on Antiques Road Trip; “Aah,” we sigh at the sight of a Cotswolds yellow stone cottage melting like treacle in blue-sky sunshine on Escape to the Country (though I think my mother might be aah-ing at the lovely Alistair); “Tut,” we tut at a woman attempting to sell her grandmother’s button box on Flog It.

People underestimate the power of non-primetime telly, but it probably has the most loyal audience and I can tell you from personal experience that, after 30 years of popping up on various TV shows, the biggest reaction I’ve ever had from the viewing public was after a recent appearance on Channel 4’s afternoon doodling parlour game, Draw It!

I wasn’t even particularly good at the game, being trounced by my opponent Louie Spence at every turn, but nonetheless, the other week, I was mobbed at a motorway service station by a coach party of Draw It! devotees. Just for a second, I knew how it felt to be Justin Bieber!

In fact, I’ve decided that I’d like my next career break to be the host of a neverending afternoon quiz show, preferably sitting down, because like all stand-ups, here comes a time when the old knees start to give way and the idea of a comfy chair behind a desk with all the answers in front of me really appeals.

Back at the Inn

Let’s face it, the world of afternoon TV is rather nice, it’s a refuge from cynicism and swearing, from violence and women getting chopped up.

I’ve become very squeamish about violent telly recently. I seriously don’t want to see another naked female corpse on a pathologist’s slab ever again. She’s dead, do we really have to see her tits?

The first episode of BBC1’s Quirke, with Gabriel Byrne as the brooding Dublin criminal pathologist, fell foul of the “dead woman on slab” cliché, but I persevered, possibly because I’m of an age when I like having a regular Sunday-night telly date.

Quirke has got all those good Sunday-night drama ingredients, alcohol, rain, murder and dysfunctional families, but it’s also got the mumbling curse. Or as they call it in TV land, “a touch of the Jamaica Inns”. Despite turning the volume up to ear bleed, I couldn’t hear what any of the characters said, so, like my Dad, who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up, I turned the sound down and the subtitles on, and bingo, all of a sudden it all made sense. 


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