Now what? - Lauren Booth worries about fixed TV polls

I have proof that all those television polls are fixed. Well, I almost do . .

Andrew Marr took to the little stage inside the National Portrait Gallery and explained to a group of BBC luvvies (and me) just why Darwin should "beat the pants off" Brunel in the battle to become the Greatest Briton of All Time (as voted for by BBC viewers).

"Brunel," he sighed, "was a man whose achievements in engineering were overshadowed by the fact he wore a very silly big top hat."

"Brunel probably wore it because he had such big ears!" heckled Jeremy Clarkson. "And he wasn't a plagiarist!" Rosie Boycott and Michael Portillo joined the elaborate chorus of "ha has" and "ooohs" accompanying this laddish war of words.

I thought the whole evening would be blood-curdlingly boring; what could be worse than a bunch of suits trying to out-clever each other on the merits of Newton versus Nelson? Standing outside in the cold and spotting a hundred pairs of round spectacles and shiny shoes, I almost jumped into a cab and went home. I'm glad I didn't because the Beeb may be on the brink of pulling off a brilliant TV double bluff. Here were politicians, documentary-makers and favoured TV presenters raising their voices and arguing over a pretty clever and interesting subject, but (and this is what really excites Greg Dyke) they were doing this with the enthusiasm and vocabulary of teenagers voting for Jade, not Kate, in Big Brother or Gareth, not Will, in Pop Idol.

In our BBC goodie bags, the news release was pally and jokey: there was a little set of "cards" in it, too. This was Newsround territory, not Newsnight.

"John Lennon hits the right note, but Paul McCartney doesn't make the top ten," yeah-mated the press release. And, thanks to the wonders of new technology, we were told to enjoy "a special version of the classic playground pastime, Great Britons Trumps, where you can compare scientists, monarchs, pop stars and more! You'll also be able to send an e-card of your Greatest Briton to a friend - ie, "Mine's Shakespeare, who's yours?"

If I sound a bit sneery, it's because it seems that TV executives are still convinced that simply making shows sound and look like Top of the Pops gets TOTP's viewers tuning in. Meanwhile, the rest of us just have to follow the wild and groovy format as best we can.

As I was leaving the launch of Great Britons, a very elderly man in a Savile Row suit blocked my exit.

"Vote Darwin!" he yelled in our ears with surprising vigour and volume. "Vote Darwin! Come on, he was a genius." Apparently, the man was one of Darwin's great-great-grandchildren, excited by the chance to help his ancestor to win that most important prize of all - a poll of telly viewers.

Can someone please tell me who monitors these "official" polls because I think they could be as hooky as an American presidential election. My fears were confirmed this week by Benjamin Pell. Filming a pilot for C5, he became hysterical with rage over what seemed an innocuous piece of telly called The Real Tony Blackburn.

"Who made it? Who made it?" he screeched, furiously. "Granada, that's who!"

"Well, who made I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here? Granada! Ha!" With that, he produced a fax supposedly proving that the documentary had been planned in July - six weeks before Blackburn became a born-again celeb worthy of an hour in peak time. Six full weeks before being crowned "King of the Jungle" in a TV "poll".

I'm trying to guess the outcome of the Beeb's latest popularity contest. Are we more likely to see the winter schedule filled with documentaries about James Cook or David Bowie?

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