An Hour With BBC1

I watched BBC1 for an hour this evening, while cooking and eating a pizza. Blimey. I saw two programmes:

Should I Worry About…Drinking

This show is presented by Richard Hammond from Top Gear, and I skipped the first few episodes because of him. No point going into why – turns out I was being judgmental and completely wrong. He’s actually quite good. The show tries to actually investigate whether fears are grounded. Previous episodes have looked at MRSA, injections and exercise. The presenter talks to the relevant experts and genuinely seems to be open-minded.

Today’s episode was about alcohol consumption, and was pretty scary. The presenter used himself as a test case and filmed his drinking habits over the course of a week. When the results came in you could see him really getting worried about himself, especially when he was labeled a ‘very heavy drinker’. Some facts from the programme:

  • Over 50 units per week classifies you as a ‘very heavy drinker’
  • 1 in 3 men are ‘very heavy drinkers’
  • 1 in 10 premature deaths is related to alcohol
  • 70% of A&E admissions on Friday and Saturday nights are alcohol-related
  • 50% of people hit by cars are drunk
  • 5 years of ‘very heavy drinking’ is enough to damage the liver
  • One unit = half a pint, or a small glass of wine, or one shot.

The recommended maximum daily alcohol intake is 2 units for women and 3 units for men. The show did an experiment in which two women, one teetotal and one not, swapped places for a month. Their health, cognitive abilities and sleep patterns were monitored over the course of the four weeks. Of course correlation doesn’t imply causation, but the results were nearly complete opposites. The woman who became teetotal slept less restlessly and her cognitive abilities improved, while the other woman had the opposite, plus a rise in blood pressure.

He then spoke to a health expert who demonstrated the differences between drinking with a meal and on an empty stomach – the alcohol level of the former was 10% of the latter after the same amount of drink. He walked around a UK town on a Saturday night, just watching and interviewing people drinking, and you could tell he was quite taken aback.

His final message was that there clearly is a problem here. He didn’t want to stop drinking, but now knew enough to ‘grow up a little’, as he put it, and watch himself. He admitted to not knowing how to tackle the drinking culture in the UK, however.

I’m not describing the show like this in a preachy way because I don’t drink. Really. It’s just that I thought it was quite a powerful programme. It wasn’t patronising or preachy, but showed the reality behind the myth of alcohol. I thought it was very well made, and I’d think it made a lot of people (including me) much more aware of the dangers of alcohol.

So anyway, having watched that…

Eastenders

…Eastenders began with a warning of ‘powerful scenes’. I don’t watch Eastenders regularly, but I have an idea of current storylines and characters from being around when others are watching it. Still, I couldn’t think what the ‘powerful scenes’ could be. In the space of half an hour, there was:

  • A young boy trying to sell drugs on the street
  • The young boy being robbed, his head slammed into a wall and then he was left unconscious on the floor of a public toilet
  • Somebody trying seduce a fifteen year-old girl
  • The fifteen year-old girl reaching for a small bag of heroin, a sheet of tin foil and a cigarette lighter
  • The fifteen year-old girl seemingly dead on the floor of the apartment

It wasn’t what you’d call cheerful television. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were complaints, and it was certainly a powerful episode. I have no idea whether that’s appropriate subject matter for a mainstream soap. One one hand I can see that it’s important to raise these issues, especially with children, but on the other hand it’s extremely unpleasant viewing. It certainly didn’t glamourise drug use, and I think the BBC have been very brave in broadcasting a storyline of this nature.

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So what am I saying about the evening’s television? Only that it was, without a doubt, thought-provoking. Both shows managed to convey their bleak subject matter without being too depressing, and neither were programmes I’ll forget in a hurry. I like it when TV does this. I think that TV is an excellent medium to tell us things we don’t often hear, or would normally shy away from, purely because it can easily sidestep the perceived biases of other authorities. I’m not saying this is what TV should do, as that’s a whole different argument, but I personally enjoy it when it does.