By The TV Grump @TheTVGrump
"Catch up is the new live !" Chris Evans proclaimed as he oversaw the televisual Hindenburg that was the Top Gear reboot. He couldn't understand why viewers didn't want to watch a grubby looking millionaire shouting about cars. Ah, but they're watching on catchup, he'd explain. Well, maybe for the first week, out of curiosity. Towards the end of the run, not so much.
He was correct about one thing though, catch up television is big business now. With millions watching on the BBC's exemplary iPlayer every week, it's no longer the poor relation it once was. Everyone has got in on the action too. ITV has its 'Hub', enabling us to watch a seemingly endless parade of adverts interspersed with the occasional snippet of Loose Women or Jeremy Kyle. Even plucky Channel 5 has their version. Poverty porn and documentaries about men with twenty stone testicles are only a few clicks away.
My pick of the bunch though, is All 4. Originally launched over a decade ago (as 4oD), it acts as an archive for Channel 4 content, both past and present. Whereas the iPlayer may provide a small handful of full series box sets, All 4 practically relishes in displaying its wares. Father Ted, Shameless, Brass Eye and Queer As Folk all make expected appearances. Newer fare from The Inbetweeners, Fresh Meat and the Cucumber/Banana/Tofu experiment are all worthy additions. And if you like your viewing of the subtitled variety, you can always try your luck with the Russian roulette of quality that is the 'Walter Presents' strand.
Most recently however, I found myself drawn to A Very British Brothel. A two part documentary filmed in Sheffield's City Sauna. Located on Attercliffe Road - delightfully referred to as the "Golden Mile of Sex" - City Sauna sits amongst the highest concentration of massage parlours in Sheffield.
The sauna itself is run by mother and daughter team Cath and Jenny. For four years, they have been welcoming up to 300 customers a week, and it's undeniable, these girls certainly know their market. The sauna concentrates primarily on the more mature lady ("Every man wants a Milf!"), and from the amply upholstered girls we're introduced to, it certainly seems they've been built for comfort, and not for speed.
Self proclaimed 'nympho' Anna is the sauna's longest serving worker. She's "quite a squirter, actually" says regular Sean. Sometimes Sean just comes in for a cup of tea and a chat. We learn of another regular punter, referred to as 'Food Man' after his rather niche fetish. After a warning from Cathy that there is to be "absolutely no coleslaw allowed in the jacuzzi!", we see the aftermath of Food Man's visit. Empty tubs of smoked haddock chowder, discarded tins of Ambrosia custard, and one decidedly 'used' jacuzzi.
Yes, it does sound like something dreamt up by Peter Kay or Victoria Wood. The selling of Scampi Fries behind the reception desk or the fact that every shift starts with the girls tucking into enormous takeaways. In fact, far from the orgy of depravity the title suggests, the resulting programme is more an orgy of Greggs pasties, tattoos, acres of leather and fried breakfasts.
As we hear from more of the regulars - Jason, 39 who lost his virginity to a prostitute at 14, visits twice a week, and straight from the Aardman animation workshop, flat cap wearing pensioner George - you begin to learn that it's not all about the sex. It's company, it's having a laugh, it's combating loneliness. These kind of documentaries often encourage the viewer to sneer at what they're seeing, but everything is handled beautifully here (no pun intended).
When Cathy runs a Christmas raffle in aid of Alzheimer's (First prize being an hour with the lady of your choice; second prize half an hour etc), we can't help but fall for her. Every entrant receives a free mince pie, of course. The ladies discuss the danger of being on the streets, the violence they've encountered, and how much safer they feel at City's. Whatever your views on the sex trade, providing such a service in the safest possible environment, can only be a good thing.
Part two sees the production team returning to City Sauna a year later. I won't spoil this one, as it's arguably even more enjoyable than the first part. If the potential discovery of "damp in the Gentleman's Lounge" doesn't send you racing to All 4 faster than "a tramp on chips" (another Cathy-ism), then I hear that Top Gear is still available on the iPlayer ...