Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Multicoloured Swap Shop

If there's one thing which guarantees reality show success (apart, that is, from desperate b-list celebrities hoping to boost their flagging (or in some cases non-existent) careers), it's the word 'swap' in the title. In the past three years we've had 'Wife Swap', 'Holiday Swap', 'Gender Swap', 'Age Swap', and of course 'Flip Flop Cop Swap'. Well ok, I might have made up that last one. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Anyhoo, proving this to be true, last night Channel Five gave us 'Race Swap', which sounds like an opportunity to see Michael Schumacher winning the Tour de France, but was in fact a light-hearted make-over session featuring the kind of racial integration not seen since The Black & White Minstrel Show.

The programme saw the welcome return of Sam Fox to our screens, a woman who, according to the opening voice over, "is famous as a former page 3 girl and a pop star". One out of two - close, but no cigar. Sam of course has already done a real life 'sexuality swap' in recent years, but on this occasion was paired with ageing Olympian, Linford Christie, and the two challenged to switch racial identity in an effort to fool their nearest and dearest. It was a lot to ask, because as Sam herself pointed out, "when you think of me, you think 'Britain'". Well, Britain and knockers, surely?

Fortunately the pair had a triumvirate of experts to assist them in their task: prosthetic make-up artist Neil, image consultant Vanessa, and vocal coach Louise, who had her work cut out with Linford, who seemed to think his best chance of playing a convincing white man lay in his ability to talk like he had the kind of breathing problems not seen since the death of Darth Vader.

But undeterred, the team set about transforming Linford into a classic English gent, and Sam into a reject from the Kumars at Number 42. Having been measured up by Neil and Vanessa, Linford wasn't best pleased to hear that he'd be "majorly covered in rubber", but Frank Bough must have been straight onto the phone to his agent, demanding to be booked for the next series. Neil soon set about making casts of their heads, while Louise got to work on their acting ability. Or lack of it.

Her aim with Linford, we were told, was to "disguise the athletic poise" and "make him look overweight", something Steve Ovett has managed all on his own, and sure enough, after a day of intensive training, the results were there for all to see: Linford announced "I feel like a right dick", and threatened to walk out.

Over in the bimbo camp, things were going a little better, with Sam doing a fine attempt at the Indian accent. If they ever bring back 'Mind Your Language', she's got a job for life. Although she did seem limited to shouting "Sanjay!" in a loud voice. It was enough, however, to prepare Sam for her first test - phoning a wedding planner who only deals with Asian customers, and convincing him that she was an Indian mother-in-law with £100,000 to spend. He seemed quite willing to believe her, but then if you're being offered a hundred grand to throw a party, you're not going to tell the customer they sound like Alec Guiness in 'A Passage to India'. And besides, he commented afterwards that "her English was particularly poor", so you can't tell me he didn't twig who it was.

Linford's test meanwhile, was to call "a close friend", Dr Bernie Henry, a researcher at the Department of Materials at Oxford University. No, I don't know how they became friends either. But despite talking like he had a life-threatening sinus infection, and sounding marginally less convincing than a Les Dennis impression, Linford somehow managed to fool the good doctor. Which just goes to show that not everyone at Oxford is a genius.

A couple of weeks later and the prosthetics were ready. Sam Fox's make-up (right) was actually quite impressive. Linford Christie's looked more like something out of The Evil Dead. Which had been left next to a radiator. But hey, you can't have everything.

The pair were then taken out clothes shopping, with Linford being told "You've got to think like Donald Trump" (appropriate considering the shocking wig he'd just been given), and Sam meeting a group of Hindu ladies, who told her "If you're not educated, you will have a strong Indian accent". Which explained a lot.

The ensembles completed, and with Linford looking increasingly like a Spitting Image puppet, it was time for them to take their first proper challenges. Linford was given the task of posing as a journalist and fooling his lifelong coach, Rocket Ron Roddan, while Sam was expected to play the part of an Indian restaurant manager, and serve a group of her closest friends.

Having perfected his voice beforehand, Linford took the last minute decision to chuck it all out the window and do an impression of Marlon Brando with laryngitis, while Sam seemed more intent on hamming it up as an Indian version of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. The two mounds of rice in the shape of breasts were a master stroke on Sam's part. Although, as she's only too keen to point out, she's known for so much more than just her tits.

Anyhoo, challenge number one successfully completed, Linford moved on to his children's school, where his partner Mandy spotted him within three seconds, and before he'd had a chance to open his mouth. There was still time for him to mentally traumatise his kids though, with 4 year old Tate looking genuinely disturbed, and mumbling "You're not my daddy" in a shaky voice. But hey, I'm sure it's nothing that can't be sorted out with a few years of therapy.

Sam meanwhile paid a visit to the radio studio of her old mate (adopt the voice of Smashy & Nicey when you read that), Pat Sharp, where she disrupted his show by sitting on a stool and singing 'Touch Me' in an Indian accent. Sam was convinced that he "didn't have a clue it was me", and announced that she deserved an Oscar.

And the verdict from Pat? "I just thought you were a fucking lunatic". So he obviously knew who she was all along.