Mad about the boy

23 August 2013

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NEWS of a movement under the banner "One Direction" that was gaining worldwide support might suggest a new religion or political organisation. In fact, as Crazy about One Direction (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) revealed, it is nothing more than a monstrous fan club of teenage girls - followers of a boy band that came third in The X Factor in 2010.

The band's failure to win made them seem even more desirable, and the girls of Britain, first, and then the world, took to the social-networking sites to create a tidal wave of support. One member of the band, Harry Styles, acquired ten million followers on Twitter.

Of course, fanatical fans have always been part of the pop scene. The Beatles, the Bay City Rollers, Take That - screaming teenage girls are part of the show. The difference here, as Daisy Asquith revealed, is that both fans and the band are immersed in the networking world of Twitter. The boys play on this, apparently addressing the girls directly in their tweets: "Hiiiii! Cute, every single one of you." And, in a million bedrooms, to cries of "OMG", the message is not for the millions, but for Emma or Natasha or Holly.

The girls' tweets are addressed to one or other of the five boys in the band: "I'm so unhappy"; "Why won't you notice me? Shall I kill myself?" Judging by the posters held up at personal appearances, some go a lot further, with blatant invitations for sex. One of the girls writes soft-porn stories about the band and its fans; another sees her favourite singer as "connected to God", and has a picture of him in godlike pose to confirm it.

Adults and boys are conspicuously absent from their lives. "Boyfriends get in the way," one girl said firmly. But they are not loners. This is a genuine and exclusive "club", based on obsessive commitment.

Did the programme offer any hope of escape from this slavery to an illusion, other than the simple one of growing up? Well, yes, in a way. A group of girls had waited for two hours to wave to their idols as they left a TV studio. In fact, they sped out with screaming tyres, and disappeared. One girl looked at the camera, her face stained with tears. "They don't care about us," she sobbed. "They just want our money." It was a eureka moment.

A new comedy series on BBC1, especially at this time of the year, is a welcome if unexpected sight. Big School (BBC1, Friday) has a stellar cast - David Walliams, Catherine Tate, and Frances de la Tour, to name but three - and the germ of a good idea: the emotional byplay of a typical secondary school staff-room.

The trouble is that anyone who has been inside a modern school will know that it is nothing like this: a geriatric male teacher long past retirement age, a French teacher who has never been to France, and a PE teacher of such abysmal crudity that he would never have survived his first OFSTED.

Comedy needs a recognisable setting in which the eccentricities and absurdities of life are played out. That is the strength of series such as Rev, Miranda, and Father Ted. This was so ridiculous that it failed to be funny. In school report terms: "Not good enough. Must try less."

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