Buttocks, sponges and snogging: are British chatshows sexist – or just smutty?

Remember the days when the guest was the important person in the chatshow?” asks Maureen Lipman in this week’s Radio Times. If getting you to feel sorry for celebrities on sofas feels like a tough sell, at least hear her out: English actors now have to tell their “juiciest genitalia stories … chocolates are pressed between Hollywood buttocks [Kate Beckinsale] … an Oscar contender recounts placing a sponge placed between her legs for a sex scene [Olivia Colman]”. It is just not dignified.

Even though you have to be a serious watcher of the chatshow format to recall all such incidents, you will probably have noticed the ghost of a tightrope between getting a famous person in an intimate mood and making it look as if they snogged Alexander Skarsgård in front of their husband – as Graham Norton did to Nicole Kidman. The line between humanising a star and humiliating them is fine; a lot of it comes down to how they receive it.

Lipman detects misogyny, but that is like gravity; you have to look for what else pulled the plane out the sky. It was a side-invention of modern capitalism that celebrities had to leverage their best stories to get on the cover of the best magazines. Why does Vanity Fair get so many scoops? Are its journalists especially doe-eyed or cunning? Or do you pay for that Annie Leibovitz portrait with privacy? If you have nothing private left to bust open, do you have to confect an alcohol problem or take your keks off?

Transmuted into the British media, where producers would never have the gall to demand an exclusive from a Hollywood star, the ask is sillier, smuttier, more schoolyard: nobody is going to pay you the big-attention-bucks for the story about the vajazzle that went wrong – nobody except British primetime TV. We are like a primitive nation attaching great value to ring pulls. Things that would fetch nothing on the open market will make you queen or king of our hearts. In fairness to us, as a culture, it afflicts men as much as women; were Colin Firth to have an amusing personal incident with depilatory cream, I would understand how important it was for us to know that.

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