Tune in, switch off - Flight of French fancy

31st July 2009 at 01:00
More religious in middle age, Louis XIV rejected a long-standing lover and took up with the governess instead. Well, we didn't expect him to stop being a three times a day man

So this is what hell must look like: a theme park in Argentina, complete with fire, flames and water, resembling the set of an end of war movie. Hope this isn't your summer holiday destination. Total Wipeout, BBC One, had adults dressed in red space suits tackling fiendishly cunning obstacles. But cheering and jeering kept the audience happy.

"Every muscle in his body must be hurting now," purred Richard Hammond, as Ricky "the hype" Martin embarked on the barrel run, monkey bars and the spinner - all tortures to keep contestants wet and wounded.

Olympic Les, the veteran athlete, battled valiantly but couldn't out-speed Ricky for the chance of a Pounds 10K prize. "I feel beautiful, baby, beautiful!" proclaimed victorious Ricky, showing off his hype.

There was even more spectacle and colourful clothing in Versailles: The Dream of a King, BBC Two. Sumptuous and opulent, this was the best excuse for actors to dress up since the last Jane Austen adaptation.

Louis XIV enjoyed hunting, council meetings and sex three times a day. According to informant Lady Antonia Fraser, who sounded like a court insider, he would take a turn with a lady's maid if his mistress was slow getting her dress off. But then he changed his mistress more often than I change my car.

More religious in middle age, he rejected a long-standing lover and took up with the pious governess instead. Well, we didn't expect him to stop being a three times a day man.

Since Louis sited his palace near a swamp with little water, the gardeners had to fiddle the fountains, which flowed only when the King walked past. Blame the bog.

Versailles outshines every other palace. Though it took weeks longer than planned and was well over budget. No change in builders then.

And he took his pain as completely as his pleasure, enduring a grisly procedure for an anal fistula, vainly instructing his surgeon to: "Treat me as you would the least of my subjects. Then your hand will not tremble."

Critic Paul Morley in How to be a Composer, BBC Four, was all trembling hands, learning how to compose at the Royal College of Music, but admitting he couldn't read a note: "I'm hesitant and I don't know where I'm going." Not likely to be a number one hit then, Paul.

Minims and crotchets were: "Simple dots but unbelievably profound." It turned out he was being shown Beethoven's Fifth. A music critic without a pen is like a violinist without a bow.

Abba represented "hell" to him even without crotchets. His composition would: "Create time as limbo but in a notated way." I would save that for the lyrics. And he wanted inspiration to "come from the swamp". Why not try Versailles?

But this was how to do one-to-one tuition, everybody. Strategies to model for the new one-on-one team in September.

My wife complained bitterly about the noise of his composition as she tried camouflage, by way of Chopin's nocturnes, on her iPod. There's just too much hell on TV these days; I think I'll join her with the Chopin

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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