Dodgy mates

Television - Andrew Billen follows the thrills and spills of a good night out and a cosy night in

A dodgy geezer is a lovable rogue with the lovable taken out. Stav, the star of ITV's sardonically named documentary A Good Night Out (Tuesday 8 August, 10pm), said he had been a dodgy geezer "in the past". Dodgily, Stav wasn't actually his name. Down the pits, he was Simon; when they closed, he shaved off his hair, acquired a Ratner's worth of clunky jewellery and picked up a couple of convictions for drug dealing. Stav was born.

Stav thinks that this recent past is behind him, but the bouncers on the doors of Doncaster's nightclubs have good medium-term memories. So, on a Friday night, he marches across town in search of a nightspot that will let him in. When he finds one, he gets thrown out of that - just like his mate, the serially banned Wayne, who, with a kind of inevitability, has a girlfriend back home called Tracey.

Doncaster, which is reinventing itself as a party town, wants party-goers; but it doesn't want Stav and Wayne. Nor, it seems, do the town's womenfolk. One of the fascinating things about Nicholas O'Dwyer's examination of a Friday night in the life of Doncaster was how little its subjects expected sex to be part of a good night out.

Bev and Kelly, world-weary at 19, were planning to live together, each having had enough abuse from men to last a lifetime. Locally, they reported, the men play a game called, unless I misheard, "Pull the Pagan", the idea being to go into a bar and "pull" the ugliest woman in it. (Something has gone badly wrong with dating in South Yorkshire.) At one point on this typical Friday night, Stav and Wayne came within hailing distance of Bev and Kelly, near enough for the girls to hear the boys' battle cry: "Look at the arse on that!" Although it was not immediately obvious whether this was shouted in encouragement or as part of the warm-up to a round of Pull the Pagan, Bev and Kelly smelled misogyny.

Despite a misjudged crudity in the commentary - "the women wear skirts so short that you need two hairdos to wear them" - there was directorial compassion at work here, of a kind that, a few years ago, would have looked out of fashion. The subjects were people who set store by going out because they didn't have much to stay home for. With no partners to speak of - Tracey was clearly about to boot out Wayne - they romanticised what was left, which was friendship. Stav admitted having been in counselling after the death of one close friend, and the image of that big skinhead gently tending Wayne's bleeding head in the local casualty department (after a disagreement with one bouncer too many) will stay with me.

If you thought that Stav and Wayne were dodgy geezers, you should have seen Cassie Alward's odd little film, Blokes (Sunday 6 August, 11.40pm, BBC2). Alward set out to make a documentary about modern men. "I was looking," she said, "for the sensitive Nineties man in touch with his emotions and loyal to his mate." In both Jack and Chris, she found him - and how! Alward's tutor at film school probably warned her against getting too close to her subject. But maybe she missed that lecture. On the very night that she was introduced to Jack and Chris, she snogged Jack and ended up in bed with Chris, with whom she continued to have a desultory affair while actually preferring Jack. Chris was not one to commit. On the other hand, Jack was not the sort to steal a friend's girlfriend. The story ended with Chris moving into a flat with two Italian girls (whom he hardly pretended not to fancy), and with Jack not having made his move.

This unwholesome pair were heterosexual but, at some deep, spiritual level, fancied each other like mad. They even shared beds, for goodness sake, just like Morecambe and Wise. At one point, Chris speculated on how shaggable Jack would be were it not for his body hair and "bits hanging out". Hearing all this, Alward felt herself more and more the clinging woman - and a clinging woman with a camera. Chris could not have made his rejection of his stalker clearer than when, in an almost touching sequence, he ran into a gang of 10-year-old bikers in the park. "Be mates for ever," he told them. "Hang on to it. Value it. And don't let girls mess it up."

Alward's film was as messy and awkward as her relationship with its subjects, but I wouldn't have missed it. She sensed that the dodgy little secret of New Man is that he is most in love with himself. Both A Good Night Out and Blokes illustrated the paradox that, the more the sexes come to resemble each other - the men more willing to talk about their feelings; the women more sexually assertive - the more each feels complete in its own company. The real theme was the importance of "mates". It was a word used a lot and, each time I heard it, I thought how oddly charged it was for a description of same-sex comradeship. These programmes made me think harder than I had expected them to. And what more, in the dog days of summer, can one ask?

Andrew Billen is a staff writer on the London Evening Standard

Andrew Billen has worked as a celebrity interviewer for, successively, The Observer, the Evening Standard and, currently The Times. For his columns, he was awarded reviewer of the year in 2006 Press Gazette Magazine Awards.

This article first appeared in the 14 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, So, who still wants to be a millionaire?