Last night's TV: The Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Billie Piper's too homely to be a call girl and those bouncy sex scenes remind me of Benny Hill.

I was prepared to be shocked, but it's shallow and a bit silly

Is that it? It's like when the main dish is brought in, on a big platter, with one of those silver domes over it. Big drum roll, cymbal crash, lift the cover and ... oh, it's a Marmite sandwich. That's what The Secret Diary of a Call Girl (ITV2) feels like. There's been so much fuss about it, giant posters, newspaper articles, debates, everyone's stuck their oar in. I was all prepared to be shocked, titillated, angry - and all I can manage is: oh.

This is the dramatisation of the Belle de Jour blog/books with Billie Piper in the title role, in case you've been in solitary. The brouhaha, of course, is about whether it glamorises prostitution. Belle is not just on top, she's got the whip in her hand, too - metaphorically and, with one client, literally. And she says she's loving it. "I know you don't believe I enjoy the sex, but I do," she says, coquettishly, to the camera.

I have no idea whether Belle de Jour is real or an elaborate hoax, or whether happy hookers like her actually exist. Certainly, there's nothing believable or convincing here to suggest that they do, but there are probably a few around. Anyway, I still don't think anyone will, after watching this, immediately forget the grim reality of the vast majority of women in prostitution, or hand in their notice at their office jobs and get straight on the game. Frankly, they're more likely to reach for the remote control. Because it's not very good.

I'm Billie Piper's biggest fan, and wept for weeks when she left Doctor Who, but she's too homely for this role.

What she has to work with isn't great, either. I heard those hallowed words Sex and the City mentioned in connection with The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, but it has none of that programme's wit or sexiness. The sex itself is all bouncy bouncy, almost Benny Hill comedy; even the leery saddoes who tune in just to see Piper in her underwear will be disappointed. Well, maybe. Nor does it have the camp irony of Desperate Housewives. It's shallow and a bit silly, more like Hotel Babylon - a bit rubbish.

OK, maybe you guessed: I am in fact Belle de Jour, and the reason I'm down on the show is that I don't like what they've done to my work.

To be honest, the sisters should be more upset with Meet the Natives (Channel 4). These dudes think women should stay in the kitchen, and not be involved in ANY decisions. They are from the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, though, and it's amazing what you can get away with if you're from Tanna - wearing nothing but a penis sheath for one, even in a Norfolk village hall. They also believe that Prince Philip is some kind of god. Seriously.

It's like Tribe turned on its head - five guys from Tanna, which is part of Vanuatu, come to England to look at us and make a film. And it's absolutely lovely.

The village hall scene is wonderful. They're doing their traditional dances, butt-naked, sheathed penises pointing proudly skywards. And the locals are standing round the edge, nodding along, clapping. And smiling. There's lots of forced smiling in the film, the sort of smiling some well-meaning people do when they order in an Indian restaurant. It's a smile that says, "Look, I'm smiling at you, I like you, I'm not racist, and I apologise, for everything ... "

The Tannans are amused by a vacuum cleaner, and confused by the amount of useless stuff we have in our homes, unimpressed by tables, and upset by artificial insemination at the pig farm where they're staying. But they have a great time in Norfolk, and Norfolk seems to enjoy having them. In the pub, everyone wants to be their best mate, for ever, but the Tannans aren't convinced by this particular institution. For one, there are more women in there. And, as the chief says wisely, "Everyone is drinking and I'm not sure if they know what they are talking about." Quite right.

In the end, it's none of the well-meaning permasmilers that they bond with most, but a grumpy old gamekeeper called Ian. It's something about the way he can kill a rabbit, with just a little tug of the neck. It's an unlikely friendship, but they love him.

Next week they're off to Manchester, to meet working-class people. I can't wait.

The other good news is that Entourage (ITV2) is back.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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