Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tonight on Channel 4: The Fun Police

"It's a lovely autumn afternoon to spend a couple of hours in the garden," says retired health and safety consultant Ed Friend. "But don’t forget that an anagram of 'garden' is 'danger'." 

Is this health and safety gone mad? This lot don't think so. Although we see several H&S inspectors at work here – Frank, who patronises his quarry with a smile and Pauline, whose visits to the local nail salons to check they're using the right glue turn into epic battles of thick-skinned reasonableness – it's Ed who's the star of the show.

In scenes that bring to mind Gareth Keenan's health and safety tutorial in The Office, we see Ed telling a group of sniggering workers not to lift things that are too heavy to lift, demonstrating how he arranges his cutlery drawer at home to prevent accidentally cutting himself, or showing the camera a range of H&S leaflets, one called Fatal Traction. In this humourless world, it's hard to know whether that's a joke or not.

It becomes a bit less funny when we start to peer into the inspectors' motivations behind their work. Ed's wife (yes, he is married) hints at preventable workplace fatalities that have affected him deeply, and we also hear about serious burns suffered by his father as a foundry worker. And it's quite a jolt to see his distress at a disgustingly hyperbolic Richard Littlejohn column calling H&S inspectors "the very people who would have been loading the cattle trucks to the concentration camps".

In the hated professions stakes, these guys must surely be ranked alongside, if not above, traffic wardens, serial killers and journalists. But while The Fun Police does its bit to reinforce the stereotypes of geeky, obsessive killjoys, it's also a reminder that whatever Littlejohn would have you think, it's actually not much fun having your hands sawn off by a piece of shoddy machinery.

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 3 December 2008

Originally published on

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