As Vanessa Feltz began her new slimmed-down 45-minute show this
week, with more recorded inserts so senior BBC editorial executives can
exert ’quality’ control, it’s worth asking: can she rescue herself?
Or rather, can she be saved from her current tacky day-time image,
which has caused the would-be gaudy queen of day-time television to
plummet to rock bottom.
Well, she has a mountain to scale. The Vanessa Show has become a symbol
of so many negatives - faked guests, silly, even cruel debates, all
presided over by an overpaid presenter, who won’t even go to Birmingham,
traditional home of BBC daytime television, to make the show.
The furore has seriously affected the BBC’s special public service
standing at a point when the licence fee is under review. In recent
speeches about the BBC, both chairman Sir Christopher Bland and his
deputy Baroness Young of Scone have felt obliged to say that, in
cleaned-up form, Vanessa has a place in the schedules. That may be code
for saying we have to tolerate the show until we can find something
So Vanessa, already looking paler and chastened in dowdy clothes, has
only a limited period of time to rescue herself.
The PR problem starts with the fact that, as with day-time stars like
Carol Vorderman, there is no getting away from her. The low-cost demands
of the programme mean she earns fees by exposure: being there every day.
The only escape is to switch off. Vanessa can’t simply hide away, then
Yet, as the ever-popular Comic Relief returns, there are lessons to be
learned from the likes of Lenny Henry and Bob Geldof. Viewers warm to
stars (and the TV channels they appear on) who do good. It’s interesting
to note that Sky, in its quest to embed itself into UK society, has
started its ’Reach for the Sky’ educational campaign to help
school-leavers find the right career.
And there is no easier way of attracting children and teenagers than by
raising money for the underprivileged by sending yourself up, which is
why Chris Evans has joined up with Comic Relief in this time.
I’m not suggesting Vanessa should slim for Ethiopia, but she should find
a charity matched to her persona and work at it. Esther Rantzen escaped
the tacky aura of That’s Life 13 years ago with Child Line and her
championing of children’s rights. Now 57, she’s grown old relatively
gracefully and, within the last year, marketed herself on both ITV and
Vanessa is not without her share of talent. In fact, she has a degree
from Cambridge and is fast, sharp and funny, which her current image
does not reflect. She has, I believe, a good radio voice. Some turns on
this lowlier medium, certainly Radio 4, might do wonders.