The big question is: can sex-shock PR tactics still work in a world hardened to open access hardcore content on terrestrial and satellite TV, the web and in print? The BBC evidently thought so and was comprehensively hoisted with its own petard.
To explain: a colleague was sent a text message by his son last week, saying he was watching “ye olde lesboe sexe” on TV. The spelling suggested either (a) he was cack handed with his handset or (b) he was tuned in to Tipping the Velvet.
Testosterone production in overdrive, this poor 13-year-old was clinging to the edge of his trousers in anticipation of a blitzkrieg of explicitly full-frontal, XXX, girl on girl action – as comprehensively touted in pre-show trailers and a foaming media frenzy promoted by salivating, fortysomething, not-got-a-life male hacks.
Instead of the adult content he imagined, the lad got a costume drama with a bit of decorous soft porn on the side.
He was pretty hacked off, as were millions of other viewers, beguiled into watching an OK show on the back of a cheap “lesbian sex outrage” stunt.
The show was hyped as hot ‘n’ steamy and close to the edge – and it wasn’t. At least, not in contemporary TV terms.
The sexiest telly ever got for me (in my youth) was a weekly perve at Pan’s People.
Now the schedules are awash with private parts.
There is an abundance of serious (ha ha) documentaries about the art of pole dancing, the history of porn and the heritage of the buttock, alongside a slew of Granada Men and Motors shows that make no pretence to serious social commentary, bar “look at the knockers on that”.
So a few shots of two women getting it on in Victorian underwear is really Blue Peter-category content these days as far as your average adolescent, or anybody else for that matter, is concerned. Which shows the extent of the BBC’s PR miscalculation.
They wound up the story in advance, very successfully. We saw the pictures. We heard the rumours. We were titillated and teased. Excitement mounted among the swingers of Hadley Wood.
Then finally, oh joy of joys, the gorgeous beast was unleashed and unveiled and what did we see? Oh.
The watermark for outrage is too high for Tipping the Velvet. Don’t tell us we’ll be shocked. These days we’ve got to go all the way and four miles further if there’s to be the glimmer of upset from the massed ranks of middle England.
Now Tipping the Velvet just goes down as “that lesbian sex thing”. Great accolade. Is this how the writer pitched it to the producers? “I’ve got a lesbian sex thing. Are you interested?” Surely not.
I was looking at an ad in the paper. There was Melinda Messenger, naked on all fours, beside a patio door. She was offering me a great deal. “Wah-hey! I’ll have that,” I said, so I ordered it. Then four men come round and took out my windows. You can see why I was hacked off.
No one would be that stupid, so a word to the wise: next time you try to play the outrage card, make sure it’s trousers first, mouth second, or why should we ever trust a TV listing again?
Know your audience. If you sell something on shocking sex, it’s shocking sex you have to deliver.