When cattle played darts

Don’t spend Saturday nights in, that’s the lesson. Go out, make yourself insensible on Disaronno, bang your head on something and wake up with an empty wallet and a sore arse on Monday morning ready for another five days of absurd life-wasting, but for Christ’s sake don’t stay in.

Because if you stay in, you’ll end up watching a programme called Can’t Touch This. Here’s the premise: scattered about an assault course made largely of foam is a collection of circular panels with hands stamped on them. As you navigate the swinging punch bags and garish stackable blocks, your goal is to touch as many of these hand panels as you can – each one wins you a specific prize – while also attempting to get through the course in as quick a time as possible to qualify for additional rounds.

People fall over a lot and make themselves look ridiculous. This in itself is not a problem; seeing someone fall over is one of life’s genuine treats. No, it’s not what Can’t Touch This is that bothers me – it’s what it’s not. It’s not Total Wipeout.

What we have here is a prime example of why the BBC must be lauded and protected by all British citizens, with the type of ferocity usually associated with a mob outside the house of a man whose name is spelt similarly to that of a paedophile. If you’ve ever recycled a single Coke can, walked a few extra yards rather than use the disabled parking bay, held open the door for a stranger or in any way exhibited a modicum of fellowship with the people alongside you on Earth, you must defend the BBC from circling vultures and use Can’t Touch This as Exhibit A to back you up.

Total Wipeout was the same show, but off its tits. Idiots would gurn a brief USP at a sceptical presenter before charging off around a monstrous assault course where they could fully expect to hurt themselves. They would slip and crash into unnecessarily hard obstacles, fall headfirst into pits, be spun into sickening dizziness by fiendishly rotating machines and be shoved by unexpectedly movable scenery as they tried to negotiate a ledge beside a mud bath. It’s a wonder there were no blades involved.

Many moving obstacles were clearly not random – the people behind the scenery, in easily the best TV job they will ever have, waiting for the optimal moment to jam a massive boxing glove into the face of a hapless 19-stone middle-aged man. The show’s crowning glory was a series of giant red inflatable balls over which a contestant would attempt to run. They would usually make it to the second, be pinged face first into the third before spinning wildly off into a swimming pool below in a state of panic, bewilderment and the odd dislocated vertebra. I could watch this scene for countless hours and haven’t laughed so hard since Compo went down the hill in Howard’s cast iron bath.

Total Wipeout was cancelled a year or two ago, but the touchpaper had been lit: people wanted to see cretins colliding with things and making that ‘oof’ noise that always sounds so satisfying when coming out of someone else. But Total Wipeout was filmed outdoors, in Argentina, and the BBC has to make ‘efficiencies’.

Thus was born Can’t Touch This. It’s filmed indoors, probably in Birmingham. The first ‘obstacle’ involves being thrown by a pneumatic chair into a container of foam cuboids, from which the contestant must get out, which proved tricky for the big-boned Jo from Hartlepool. Next we have a travelator, against whose direction they must run – if you don’t judge it right, you’ll fall into a tub of cold water! After that there are some blocks to stack up to reach a suspended prize-hand – careful, it’s a bit unstable, don’t fall off onto that safety mat!

The show’s answer to the big red balls is a tipping pole vault, which they must cling to in order to reach the other side of a 3-metre divide. The platform on the other side is so high there’s no chance they’ll make it – no-one does – but as they slide hopelessly down there’s a chance the men might split a testicle. Oof!

While Total Wipeout was presented by an engagingly mischievous Irish woman, Can’t Touch This is fronted by a curiously wizened Zoe Ball, who appears on the verge of tears throughout. The prizes hark back to the golden age of television, when cattle played darts – an exercise bike, a weekend in Berlin and what seemed to be a mandatory food mixer that you had to claim in order to stop the clock. The final contestant had the chance to win a car if she touched it, but they suspended it from the roof and flung her at it some distance beneath so there’d be no fear of the Director General being hauled before a committee to explain why the corporation’s throwing Nissans at the poor in a time of austerity.

If you’re one of those people who thinks the BBC overreaches and should be cut back, let me lay out your alternative reality. The Night Manager is now a fly-on-the-wall at Skipton Travelodge narrated by Matthew Wright. The One Show is now just its hateful theme tune played over and over for 30 minutes, one, one, one, one, ooooh, yeah. Davidson and Virgo have taken over at Pointless. Happy Valley is set in Taunton and stars Su Pollard. Panorama investigates the Welsh steel industry every single week. Noel Edmonds is Doctor Who.

Obviously, the BBC is imperfect. Citizen Khan somehow remains on our screens, and straight after Can’t Touch This I saw a trailer for a new Michael McIntyre ‘comedy’ vehicle that had me flexing my trigger finger. It can probably save money, by focusing less on the financial well-being of Dermot O’Leary and Clare Balding and by spending zero on sporting rights. ITV, the perfect three-letter response to anyone bemoaning the BBC, is shit anyway so sport might as well go on that.

But I would pay the licence fee many times over to spend an hour each Saturday night watching berks being hurled around a terrifying South American Krypton Factor, and not grimly stacking oversized footstools in a warehouse in the Midlands in a bid to snag a 3D printer. The BBC is not some awful throwback to a time of state ownership that we’ve outgrown, but the last best hope to demonstrate that if we all chip into something without complaint we can reap benefits many times what we deserve. For what it does for the British people on a daily basis we should be tipping the contents of our bank accounts into wheelbarrows and carting it round to W1A personally.

And that’s without even mentioning its glorious radio output. The BBC has been a vital part of our lives for decades and there’s not one person in this country who would deny it’s produced some wonderful shared memories. The more we let opportunistic dickheads like the current Culture Secretary bleat and whine that it’s outdated – on the bloody BBC itself most of the time – the closer we move to Nicholas Lyndhurst as Sherlock, Derek Griffiths as Luther and the 10 o’clock news read by the bald one off Masterchef.

Can’t Touch This? Leave it the fuck alone more like.

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